Original Work Gleans from Book of Ruth
Dr. Barbara Rogers, piano instructor and accompanist at Northwestern, has composed a full-length opera based on the book of Ruth and is bringing it to the Maranatha Hall stage this spring.
Working with poet-librettist Pamela Wynn, Rogers is in the midst of constructing an approximately two-hour-long opera for Northwestern with the character of Ruth as its centerpiece.
It will be performed by students of Northwestern’s opera workshop and the Northwestern Orchestra. “I think it’s a wonderful story and like many Bible texts, there’s always something new to be discovered in it. I’m hoping the music will help to do that,” said Rogers.
Rogers is teaming with several Northwestern faculty on the performance, including Doreen Hutchings, the opera workshop director. It was from their previous working relationship that Rogers decided to tackle the gargantuan task of writing the opera.
“I have the greatest respect for what Miss Hutchings does with our students. I thought, ‘Someday, I’m going to write an opera for them.’ And along the way, the story of Ruth appealed to me because it’s a great Bible story, it’s one of everybody’s favorites.”
Beginning early in the year, she sat down with Wynn and began to fuse Wynn’s words into melody. Rogers is still in the process of combining the orchestral and vocal portions of the program.
Rogers said that without Wynn’s insight into the biblical text, the entire program could not happen. “I have about 28 or so pages of text where the whole thing is one character and another speaking. There’s no narration. The text suggests melody to me and then I find the harmony that goes with that melody and then I decide I don’t like it and I start all over again and go around again! And that’s the way it happens.”
Though Rogers has been commissioned for pieces before by the school, this is by far the largest work she has ever composed. The piece is part of a musical growth process she continues to go through.
“Compositionally, it is a progression. I have mostly written for voices. I feel most at home chorally. I’m comfortable with the voices and knowing what they can do. I think the older you get, the more you appreciate the drama of stories, the more interesting people are. And consequently the more possibilities there are for characters.”
This is also new territory for the music department. “It’s certainly a first for Northwestern to do a world premiere of an opera,” said Rod Loeffler, chair of the music department. “This is a tremendous work. It establishes this opera program in its own right. It’s a milestone for us.”
By David Gregory ’08