It's a busy time at the School of Music at Wichita State University. Mark Laycock, director of orchestras, will conduct the school's production of Mozart's "Cosi fan Tutte" in Miller Concert Hall in three weeks, then turn around and lead Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" with Opera Kansas on Thanksgiving weekend.
Paul Brodene Smith, assistant professor of voice at WSU, will spend the coming days helping young singers prepare for debuts in the upcoming shows.
Across the street in Jardine Hall, Rodney Miller, dean of the College of Fine Arts, will toil at administrative duties, office work necessary to keep the School of Music and other departments running.
All three educators, though, will step away from their daily routines to work on an off-campus project — Wichita Grand Opera's production of "The Mikado."
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Gilbert & Sullivan's frothy comic opera will be presented next weekend. Laycock, Smith and Miller will play significant roles in the production.
Laycock will conduct the opera — leading cast, chorus and orchestra, which include many current and former WSU students. Smith will coach the chorus. And Miller, a bass-baritone singer, will perform as the Mikado, a send-up of a stern samurai Emperor.
"I made a career choice many years ago to dedicate myself to education and I've lived with that choice quite comfortably," Miller said. "But there's still a part of me that longs for and enjoys the exhilaration of the stage."
Wichita Grand Opera directors Parvan Bakardiev and Margaret Ann Pent always envisioned cooperation with WSU as vital to the company's mission — to bring quality large-scale opera to Kansas, and to employ Kansas singers, dancers, musicians and technicians to do so.
The romantic leads in "The Mikado" are tenor Patrick Greene from Wichita and Victoria Botero from Kansas City. This is Greene's second season in the WGO's Resident Artist program; Botero's credits include performances with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Tulsa Opera and Light Opera Oklahoma.
Singing Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner and Yum-Yum's guardian, will be guest artist John Tedeschi; Katisha will be Christina Hager. Others in the cast are drawn from the WGO Young Artist roster.
The operetta's stage director will be Eric Gibson, artistic director of Tulsa's Light Opera Oklahoma. Other performers have sung with opera companies across the Midwest.
As Wichita State has long played a leading role in the arts in Wichita, participation by faculty and students in WGO productions was natural. Of 11 Resident Artists engaged throughout the coming season, eight are Shockers, including Will Browning, Mirko D'Angelo and Mary Ellen Swords.
"There are probably 600 arts entities in Wichita and WSU has some sort of link to probably 500 of those," Miller said, citing an economic impact study prepared by Americans for the Arts, a national advocacy group. "One of the things the College of Fine Arts really takes pride in is how much we are engaged in the Wichita community."
"Our (WSU's) connections to the Wichita Symphony are long-lasting and run very deep," conductor Laycock said. "It's nice to see the same kind of professional camaraderie with the Wichita Grand Opera."
Laycock and Miller say participation in "The Mikado" is more involved than just performances. Laycock has already attended several six-hour-long rehearsals — working with director Gibson and the singers on stage movement, character development and musical tempos. Laycock is making his WGO debut; he conducted the Wichita Symphony Orchestra last season.
Miller began attending rehearsals last week and will log 20 hours or more on stage before opening night — even though his character, the Mikado, sings only one song, at the end of the show.
"You have to have a certain amount of time with the director," Miller explained. "You have to be there and be accommodating for the other people who are singing around you."
Miller sang the King in "Aida" previously with the WGO.
Laycock and Miller say performing with Wichita Grand Opera has direct benefits for WSU.
"It's important for students to see professors working professionally off campus, to see career opportunities," Laycock said. He said he hopes "The Mikado" will inspire Wichita Grand Opera audiences to attend upcoming performances at WSU.
Miller believes his frequent performing — he also sings recitals at WSU — makes him a better administrator.
"I understand the backstage part of it a lot better since I've been an administrator and a dean," Miller said. "But I also know it from the trenches as a performer. I'm not just a bean counter looking at the bottom line."
If you go
What: Wichita Grand Opera presents the light opera by Gilbert & Sullivan
Where: Century II's Mary Jane Teall Theater, 225 W. Douglas
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Nov. 8
How much: Tickets are $35, $58, $85. For more information, visit www.selectaseat.com or call 316-262-8054.