When Madison Opera’s production of “Lucia di Lammermore” opens next weekend, it will be in part thanks to a woman Waunakee.
Hannah Nies is a production assistant, making sure the costume changes go smoothly and the characters are on stage at the right time.
As Nies said, his role âbasically means that I go where they tell me and I lift heavy objects. I am a servant.
Nies grew up in Waunakee and began studying theater at the age of 7 with Whitney Beck when Beck ran children’s theater workshops. After graduating from Waunakee Community High School, Nies continued his education at Wellesley College in Massachusetts to major in English and Drama.
âIt’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the theater,â Nies said, âI just love stories that make sense and relate to our lives today.â
While Nies was studying classical music in high school, voice teacher Molly Petroff recommended that he join an apprenticeship program with Madison Opera, a fun experience.
âWe were able to sing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra choir; we played Opera in the Park. We got to see part of the rehearsal process for another opera they were doing, âNies said.
When Nies recently saw that Madison Opera was looking for young people to become production assistants, she applied.
In college, Nies was a member of the college’s Shakespeare Society, performing in shows and directing. She hadn’t studied music for some time, so during her first week of rehearsals with Madison Opera, she faced challenges. Once again, she reads music following the score to time the performers’ exits and entrances on stage. This is necessary for planning backstage costume changes.
âIt’s a little hard to follow the music, find the exact time that person is going out, write it down and keep track of everyone,â Nies said.
âLucia di Lammermoreâ is a big drama, with marriage, murder, madness, forbidden love and bossy siblings, Nies said. She thinks almost everyone will find it relevant.
âI think everyone is in love. Everyone has family relationships that are not necessarily what you would like them to be, âNies said.
While opera is often seen as an elite theater, Nies hopes that Madison Opera’s productions can be enjoyed by all.
âI hope when we play there are a lot of people who are comfortable being there for who they are, if that makes sense. Because it’s going to be a really fun show, murder aside, âNies said.
Nies is also impressed with Jeni Houser, the lead soprano who plays Lucia.
“I’m pretty sure she’s not from this Earth,” she said.
Glad to have theater work during the pandemic, Nies says it provides another opportunity for stage management learning. She would like to stage plays and create a safe and inclusive environment in the theater. Nies noted recent reports of allegations of sexual abuse and homophobia in productions of âHamiltonâ and âWest Side Story,â shows that were seen as inclusive.
“It’s just kind of like, oh, we can’t have nice things, right?” I want to have nice things and make sure other people have nice things too, safe, âNies said.
As Nies focuses on Shakespeare and classical theater, she would like to see more marginalized groups create and tell their own stories for the stage, she said.
Nies is not alone. This season, the New York Metropolitan Opera Company presents the first opera by a black composer, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” by Charles Blow and Terence Blanchard. It will be played in Chicago and Los Angeles in the spring.
âI just want the art to be better. And I think art gets better when more people do it, âNies said.
The Madison Opera production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermore” will be presented on Friday November 5 at 8 pm and Sunday November 7 at 2:30 pm in the Overture Hall. The opera is sung in Italian with English translations planned. For tickets, visit madisonopera.org.