Shryock Auditorium

February 08, 2022

Don’t be late for “A Dinner Engagement” comedic opera at Shryock Auditorium

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Take a step back and imagine listening to an old-time radio show as the Southern Illinois University Carbondale Lyric Theater Ensemble presents “A Dinner Engagement” at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 11-12, in Shryock Auditorium.

Written by English composer Sir Lennox Berkeley originally for Benjamin Britten’s English Opera Group, the performance will be presented as an old-time radio show so the audience can expect to see a semi-staged production that will be recorded as a radio show, said Brittany Benningfield, a lecturer in voice, opera and music theater in the School of Music who is also directing the performance. The show will not only include the opera but also commercials by performers that fit into the show’s theme.

Benningfield noted that the one-act comedy is about the Earl and Countess of Dunmow, an upper-crust couple who have fallen on hard times. They invite their old acquaintances, the Grand Duchess of Monteblanco and her son, Philippe, to dinner at their house but forget they don’t know how to cook. The couple invite help, and their daughter, Susan, is unaware her parents are setting her up with the prince. The two-scene opera plays out entirely in the Dunmow’s kitchen, Benningfield said.

The student cast, with hometowns listed, comprises:

  • The Earl of Dunmow — Caden Cole, junior, music education, Centralia, Illinois.
  • The Countess of Dunmow — Skye O’Sullivan, graduate student, vocal performance, Williamsburg, Virginia.
  • Susan Dunmow — Abby Ohlau, freshman, musical theater, Festus, Missouri.
  • Kneebone, the hired help — Amanda Talor, senior musical theater, Valdosta, Georgia.
  • The Grand Duchess of Monteblanco — Amanda Massengill, graduate student in choral conducting and vocal performance, Milan and Medina, Tennessee.
  • Prince Philippe — Amethyst Fanning, junior, musical theater, Highland, Indiana.
  • Errand boy/servant — Mainyia Nini Xiong, senior, musical theater, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The pianist is Jackson Love, a graduate student in music theory/composition from Huntsville, Alabama, and the musical director Barbara Noyes, staff pianist.

The opera has been a “joy to direct,” Benningfield said, noting this will mark the first opera production for six of the seven students and the first time that Love, the graduate assistant, will be playing for a full operatic production.

“I am honored to have so many musical theater students involved in our opera production. It’s great crossover training for them and will make them more hirable by companies who are blending operetta with musical theater,” she said. “The show is funny, relatable and would be a great first opera for many members of our community.”

The show is free, and organizers encourage patrons to arrive early to ensure seating, which will be limited to 35 to 40 people. SIU is committed to protecting the community, so all those attending must follow current campus and state pandemic safety protocols and wear masks in shared indoor spaces.