Matthew Carlson stands between Isabella Cerdan and Charlotte Hall during opera rehearsal for Cendrillon.
Lawrence University students Isabella Cerdan, Sean Price, and Charlotte Hall take part in a dress rehearsal for Cendrillon in Stansbury Theater. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Two one-act operas, both from women composers, will be presented by Lawrence University’s Opera Theatre program.

Pauline Viardot's Cendrillon, followed by Melissa Dunphy's Alice Tierney, will be featured in Lawrence's Stansbury Theater from Feb. 29 to March 3. Both are little known to opera audiences.

“[We’re] trying to find equity in other people’s works that may or may not have been suppressed—forgotten histories or erased histories,” said Copeland Woodruff, director of opera studies.

Instead of programing a single lengthy opera, Woodruff and his colleague, Assistant Professor of Music Kristin Roach, opted for two short one-act operas. Premiered in 2023, Alice Tierney has only been performed a handful of times. Although Cendrillon has seen a recent uptick in performances, it was mostly ignored for a century after its premiere in 1904. Lawrence will be among the handful of opera companies to perform either work; the first to do them together.

Sam Dill, Henry Roach, Emily Hamm, and Mariah Schaumberg are seen during opera rehearsal for Alice Tierney.
Students Sam Dill, Henry Roach, Emily Hamm, and Mariah Schaumberg rehearse a scene in Alice Tierney.

“It just happened to be the voices we had in the school,” explained Woodruff. “We had really great auditions last spring, and we wanted to serve as many people as possible.”

To maximize opportunities, both operas feature a double cast, meaning that two singers share each role and alternate nightly. The result: four separate casts.

Senior Allison Juárez Wunderlin finds it helpful to share the title role of Cendrillon with junior Sarah Ruiz.

“Working with Sarah has been lovely,” Wunderlin said. “She’s an incredible person [and] there’s a lot of trust that we’ve been able to build.”

Combine technique-building workshops with genre-defying operatic experiences to hone your skills as a singing actor.

The ability to stand back and watch someone else in your role is refreshing, according to Wunderlin. She finds herself inspired by Ruiz, while still solidifying her individual approach.

Woodruff and Roach aim to prepare students in various genres: operatic masterworks, musicals, contemporary works, and pop and rock styles.

“[We’re] trying to give them a wealth of experiences,” Woodruff said.

Each academic year, Woodruff and Roach create a schedule of stage works, custom-suited to the available singers. There is always a major work during Winter Term—in this case two short operas—and two “scenes” concerts, where students perform a compilation of excerpts from a wide range of operas and musicals.

“There are just so many opportunities here, and you can really throw yourself into things,” Wunderlin said.

At the surface, the two works in the Winter Term performances appear starkly different. Cendrillon is a French retelling of the story of Cinderella, while Alice Tierney explores the death of a woman in colonial America. But thematic materials are shared throughout.

“[There’s] the metaphor of archaeology and digging to find out about someone who pretends to be someone they're not,” Woodruff said.

The Lawrence Conservatory of Music offers music and theatrical performances from award-winning ensembles, guest artists and actors throughout the year.

Confused identities might be most obvious in Alice Tierney, where competing archaeologists theorize the death of an 18th-century woman, suspecting foul play. Cendrillon, though, also evokes this, with its classic tale of Cinderella pretending to be a princess. Every character is pretending to be something or someone they are not.

Neither opera is without its difficulties.

“For Cendrillon, it's been very challenging for the students to learn broad comedy and vaudeville styles, and Alice Tierney has been very stylized—each cast has learned a really specific type of approaching for the stage and stagecraft,” Woodruff said.

“This is definitely the hardest role I’ve ever had,” Wunderlin said. “I had to work a lot on diction.”

Show times: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29-March 2 and 3 p.m. March 3 in Stansbury Theater in the Music-Drama Center at Lawrence University. Tickets: $15-$30; seniors: $10-$25; Lawrence and non-Lawrence students with valid ID: free (only available in-person at the Box Office).