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Opera delights audiences with singing and tech wizardry
by Chuck Gordon

“Potato Jesus” was an internet sensation a decade ago, so it’s only fitting that the university premiere of an opera built around the story featured some digital sleight of hand. In early November, Wingate hosted the first full performances of Behold the Man, a comic opera based on the botched restoration of a fresco of Jesus in a small town in Spain, and the story came to life with a technical flourish.

Opera performer painting on stage

The entire set consisted of digital projections on three large screens. As the actors playing untrained fresco restorer Cecilia Giménez “painted,” strokes marred a projected image of Jesus (courtesy of a student video operator). As tourists took selfies in front of the fresco, they appeared instantly on the screens. And the fresco came to life and “sang” for the audience. To accomplish the last of these tricks, a singer belted out the song from off stage while an actor mouthed the words in front of a camera. “There’s an artform to being that character,” says Greg Stump, the set designer. “I was really pleased with how much personality we were able to get out of that animation.”

Stump, an engineer by trade who spent years working in musical theater and now runs an audiovisual company in Concord, has worked with Wingate Opera for several years, but this was his first time building a digital set for the University. He was impressed with how well the students pulled off his vision.

“I’ve really grown to appreciate the talent of the Wingate Opera program,” Stump says. “The things that I would think you would absolutely need to have in a musical-theater performance, they don’t have, like microphones and amplified sound. The students, they just do it. It’s very impressive. From that standpoint, you just make sure the technology stays out of the way so the performers can shine.”