Opera at Wichita State University has a new home — at least for the next few semesters.
Extensive renovations will begin soon to replace heating and cooling ducts in Miller Theatre and then in classrooms, offices and practice studios throughout Duerksen Fine Arts Center. WSU Opera Theatre will move performances to Wilner Auditorium, beginning this week with two short operas from the early 20th century.
The double bill features "L'Enfant et les sortileges" ("The Child and the Sorcery") by Maurice Ravel, from 1925, and "Hin und Zuruck" ("There and Back"), a 12-minute-long "sketch with music" by Paul Hindemith, from 1927.
Some 200 events will be displaced annually while renovations to Duerksen and Miller Concert Hall are under way, including opera and musical theater shows, Connoisseur Series events, symphony orchestra and jazz concerts, percussion ensemble performances and student recitals.
The renovations were given the green light last fall using money received from the federal government's stimulus package.
This week's operas will challenge WSU's student performers with agile and sometimes eclectic music. Wilner Theatre itself will challenge WSU Opera's organizers to find pieces that can be produced in that theater.
"This is going to be interesting to plan," said Marie King, director of WSU Opera and Musical Theater and director of the upcoming double bill. "We will obviously have to select productions that can use a reduced orchestra. The pit there only accommodates about a dozen."
During the Ravel/Hindemith double bill the WSU Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mark Laycock and Nicholas Gilmore will set up onstage. The operas — fully staged with costumes, movement, minimal sets and choreography by Amy Baker — will unfold in front.
Both operas feature magical situations. In the Ravel, a little boy's nursery room comes to life and scolds him for being mean.
"Oh, he's a hateful child," King said. "He tortures his pets; he catches bugs and sticks them to his wall. He tears everything up and breaks all his stuff. But he learns his lesson."
A cast of 24 will portray not only humans and animals, but furniture, plants and the lessons and figures from a mathematics book.
"It has a slightly Dada kind of unreality about it," King explained. "The magic isn't spooky magic, it is funny magic."
Ravel's music, to a text by the French novelist Colette, features a duet for cats and a waltzing ballet for frogs.
"It is very challenging," King said of the score. "There are some parts that are absolutely jazz and very tuneful. But there are some parts where the tonality meanders. You have to know where you are coming in and you have to count like crazy."
The Hindemith is likewise surreal: A man discovers his wife's infidelity, shoots her dead and then takes his own life, only to have the plot reversed through supernatural intervention. "It's a cartoon-noir piece that's just a riot," King said.
And it's a perfect fit in WSU Opera's new home-away-from-home.
If you go
wsu opera theatre
What: Opera double bill: Ravel's "The Child and the Sorcery" and Hindemith's "There and Back"
Where: Wilner Auditorium, WSU campus
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 3 p.m. March 7
How much: Tickets $6-$16. For more information, call 316-978-3233.