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Opera@Augustana hosts 90-year Christmas dinner

Members of the cast prepare for The Long Christmas Dinner. From left are Christine Harb, Davenport, Iowa, a first-year pre-med major; Ely Powers, Silvis, Ill., first-year music education major; and Katie Bultman, Appleton Wis., first-year pre-med. (Augustana Photo Bureau/Marla Alvarado Neuerburg)

Don Wooten, founder of Augustana's WVIK and the Genesius Guild theater/opera group, lent Dr. John Pfautz a recording and score for the The Long Christmas Dinner one-act opera, with a suggestion that it would be a good production for the Quad Cities.

"Like all of you," Dr. Pfautz writes in his director's note in the program, "when Don Wooten speaks, I listen."

On Nov. 18-20, Opera@Augustana will present Paul Hindemith's The Long Christmas Dinner in Wallenberg Hall at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 for the public, $10 for senior citizens and students, and $8 for children age 12 and under. Call (309) 794-7306 for tickets or order online.

The opera's libretto is by American playwright Thornton Wilder, after his play of the same name. Wilder captures a series of Christmas dinners celebrated by the Bayard family over 90 years and blends them into a one long meal. The tender story follows four generations as they experience birth, death, growth and loss.

"When I listened to it, I found a story that focuses on family during the holidays," said Dr. Pfautz, director of Opera@Augustana. "It gives us insight into 90 years of a family's holiday dinner, allowing us a glimpse of family traditions, continuing patterns from generation to generation, and lasting family values."

The Long Christmas Dinner will be Eric Geweniger's first Opera@Augustana production. (Augustana Photo Bureau/Mark Marogil)

Playing the second-generation father of the Bayard family is Dylan Hinrichs '13, a vocal music education major from Sterling, Ill. One of 11 Augustana students featured in the opera, Hinrichs appreciates the storyline's complexity.

"There are a lot of hidden messages lying under the surface of the plot," he said. "Many of the underlying themes are quite controversial and up for different interpretations."

Hinrichs is no stranger to the stage as a performer or as a director. A member of the Augustana Choir and the Augustana Chamber Singers, Hinrichs played Gunther in the Truce of Carols opera last season. He directs a children's choir and performs with an adult church choir. Last summer, he directed a musical for middle-school students.

"The most challenging part of The Long Christmas Dinner is the music," he said. "Hindemith is a 20th-century composer who incorporated several contemporary musical styles, which can be difficult for singers."

In addition to Wooten's recommendation, the challenging musical score convinced Dr. Pfautz to present this particular opera.

"Pedagogically, it's appropriate that Opera@Augustana presents repertoire that teaches something to the performers as well as the audience. I'm so pleased with how the students have risen to the occasion."

Dr. Pfautz founded Opera@Augustana shortly after coming to campus in 1987. He also teaches a seminar in church music. In 2005, Dr. Pfautz taught sacred music drama and other courses at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in Nigeria. Presently, he is on sabbatical and will return to Nigeria and Ghana to study the church music of West Africa.