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‘Fierce the Opera’ viewing at Newport High School is free ‘must see’; author Sheila Williams wrote libretto

By Patricia A. Scheyer
NKyTribune reporter

Newport High School will be the site of the debut video performance of ‘Fierce the Opera,’ on Wednesday, March 29, at 6 p.m.

The opera, which was performed last July at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, was recorded at the time. Admission is free for the performance, but donations will be accepted for the Drama Club production. Handicapped seating is available. RSVP is requested, but not required, at brittany.stacy@newport.kyschools.us.

Sheila Williams

Bev Holiday, Business Liason Officer, had attended that performance in person with a friend, and afterwards, on the way home, she spoke to her friend.

“We need to get this video for the Newport High School Drama Club,” she told her friend. “It is truly an honor for Newport Independent School System to be the debut showing site.”

Holiday has been working with Brittany Stacy, the Newport high school drama teacher, as well as Sheila Williams, a Newport resident and noted author who wrote the libretto for the opera, to get the debut video performance ready for March 29.

As an exciting follow up to the video showing, there will be a drama workshop for the drama club sometime in April after spring break featuring representatives from the Cincinnati Opera.

Writer Sheila Williams is the author of books such as On the Right Side of a Dream, The Shade of My Own Tree, Girls Most Likely, and Things Past Telling, all which are available at the Newport Branch of the Campbell County Library, as well as Roebling Coffee on Overton Street in Newport. She is a contributor to a Netflix movie based on her book Dancing on the Edge of the Roof.

Williams has been a storyteller since she was very young, and she related how she used pictures to tell stories before she knew words, and as the words came, the sentences came and created the stories, and eventually the novels.

“I was approached by Marcus Kuchle, and Julie Grady Heard, both from the Cincinnati Opera in 2019,” Williams explained. “They were looking toward their 100th season in 2020, to celebrate women on the anniversary of the right to vote.”

She told how she sat down with five volunteers from Word Play, a group in Cincinnati that supports creative language, and the Music Resource Center, which does the same for music.

“These ten young women were my muses for this production,” she said, “and they were my inspiration, so listening to them, I was able to form the story for the libretto.”

Williams told about the issues and concerns expressed by the young ladies, and she did settle on lipstick and makeup.

“It was the inspiration for the ‘Red Lipstick Aria,'” she laughed. “William Menefield and I collaborated in 2019, and he wrote a piano score. We had an acceptable draft in 2019, and held a workshop in the fall of 2019.”

William Menefield, who also has ties to the Cincinnati area, composed an upbeat score which was played by 12 members of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The opera was staged by D. Lynn Meyers.

But then, in 2020, the pandemic pushed normal life off a cliff, and the opera sat on a shelf for a few months. They did have a chance to hear the opera put together in June of 2020.

Williams’ story is centered around four teenaged girls, Rumer, Morgan, Vesta, and Nyomi who meet while taking a class in essay writing at their school. Their teacher is supportive, and challenges them with the topic, ‘Tell me who you are.’

As the story unfolds, the four girls act out remembrances of their past experiences which have contributed to who they are. Added to their experiences are their deepest fears.

Rumer deals with the death of her friend who committed suicide, while Morgan dreams of being an artist and tries to withstand her parents’ pressure of being the first in the family to go to college. Nyomi fights her self-doubt and fear that threaten to overwhelm her talent in IT. Vesta rises above her unstable home life, and escapes into fantasy. They all have to fight the threat of real and imagined trolls.

Menefield finished his orchestral score in 2021, and a listening event was held at Music Hall. There were 8 principal singers, and 12 members of the orchestra.

Three performances were held at the School for Creative and Performing Arts in July of 2022, and the last one was recorded. Williams said they were there for the filming, and it was a very long day, lasting almost until midnight.

“Writing is black ink on a white page,” said Williams. “But when the singers come in, they take it to a whole new level; it takes you to the stars—there is nothing like it.”

With her lifetime of writing, this was a different experience.

“As an author, you don’t have to coordinate with other people,” she explained. “With this I worked with the composer, the director, the singers, and the costume people.”

Of course, this was a perfect extension of Williams’ talent, an extension that has enriched and taken her talent to a new height. She said she has muses for all of her creations, but in between, her main muse relaxes.

“My muse spends a lot of time on the couch doing her nails!” she quipped, laughing.

She wouldn’t have traded this experience for anything, and she likes that her stars are lining up correctly.

“It was a wonderful experience,” she concluded. “I had a great time!”

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