In approximately 425 years of opera history, never has an opera been designed specifically for a planetarium.
Faculty and students from the High Point University Music Department, in collaboration with Dr. Brad Barlow, Associate Professor of Astrophysics, will present his family opera, Galaxies in her eyes Friday April 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday April 2 and Sunday April 3 at 7:30 p.m. The opera is an entirely professional production featuring musicians from the Winston-Salem Symphony Orchestra, internationally renowned singers and directors, and a professional technical crew, according to a press release sent by the university.
“Galaxies in her eyes was crafted by a team of nationally renowned opera professionals for a workshop and debut at the High Point University Culp Planetarium. It tells the story of a young girl named Eden in the 1960s who dreams of going to the stars, despite being told women can’t be astronauts. Defiantly, she imaginatively weaves the stories of Annie Jump Cannon, Katherine Johnson and Ada Lovelace, whose work will help make this journey possible,” Barlow said. “Across time and space, the women work together to convince her that her innate creativity and determination will help her on her journey. Eden discovers a scientific fraternity that is defined by collaboration, perseverance, a fascination for the unknown and the importance of doing one’s math homework.
The aim of the opera was to focus on three historical figures, highlighting underrepresented but essential figures in astronomy to find a synthesis between STEM and music that has never been explored while being innovative and allowing singers and performers to interact with the visuals on the dome.
According to Barlow, the opera, which lasts about 50 minutes, is one that “the ordinary person” can relate to.
“It’s rich in science but easy to digest and tells a story of inspiration and growing spirit,” he said.
During the pandemic, HPU associate voice professor Scott MacLeod spoke with a full-time opera singer who expressed his displeasure with the circumstances surrounding his work at the time. This led MacLeod to collaborate with other artists on developing concepts for the new opera. “In a meeting, we were bouncing around ideas or concepts when I mentioned that High Point University had a planetarium and that sparked all this production,” MacLeod said. “I was introduced to Kristine McIntyre, who took over the concept and is our production manager. I can’t give him enough credit. She brought in Amy S. Punt, our librettist, and Mark Lanz Weiser, our composer.
When developing the booklet, the team worked with Barlow to accurately display the constellations and scientific information. Through the use of research-based penological teaching software instead of theatrical design, the team was able to inject science and spatial trajectories into the production for more accurate portrayal.
The booklet was done in the studio in the spring of 2021 and they incorporated lighting cues and underlining to accommodate an environment that was supposed to be lit from the perspective of the dome.
Barlow said making the space work has had its challenges, but it will be worth it.
“The planetarium was not built to be a theater, which requires an orchestra pit, a huge volume and lighting elements. This planetarium was specifically designed to educate people,” Barlow said. “The planetarium is a 50-foot-wide dome, with little room for an orchestra. Fortunately, the dome has holes everywhere, and since we have space behind the dome, we decided to put the orchestra behind the dome so that the sound still passes through the audience. It’s fascinating because when you listen to the orchestra play, it sounds like it’s coming from the stars above.
The opera features near-magical elements throughout that take the audience on a journey with the main protagonist, whether he’s flying through space, sitting in an observatory, or landing on Mars, through spectacular visual and sound effects. .
“I think this opera is the most beautiful marriage of arts and sciences I have ever seen. We often think of arts and science as oil and water. I want people to see them as two forms of the same thing. It’s not just about finding the truth in both realms and not just about finding a certain emotional state of being, but that these two different entities have something to teach each other,” Barlow said. “Also, there’s a song about polynomials in the middle of the opera, and I learned that there are a lot of words that rhyme with polynomials.”
For more information, visit https://www.highpoint.edu/music/galaxies-in-her-eyes/.