Interlochen presents rarely performed Copland opera

As he opened the 88th season of camp, Interlochen Center for the Arts President Jeffrey Kimpton paused to reflect on Interlochen’s journey from one man’s dream to the dream of thousands of young artists. “The dream of Interlochen has come full circle,” he told the 1,500 students at opening gathering.

Interlochen is not alone in the full-circle club: This summer’s arts festival celebrates the life and work of Aaron Copland, a celebrated American composer and a conductor of Interlochen’s orchestras in the late 1960s. Twenty-five years after his death, the man who once conducted the music will have his own music conducted as Interlochen presents his second opera, The Tender Land. In that performance, four more dreams come full circle, as four Interlochen Arts Camp and Interlochen Arts Academy alumni return to take the stage not as the students they once were, but as artists they aspired to be.

In 1954, musical theatre writing duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II commissioned Copland to compose the score for The Tender Land in honor of the 30th anniversary of the League of Composers. The libretto—the text of the opera—was written by Horace Everett. Unlike a traditional opera and like a musical theatre performance, the text is spoken rather than sung. The opera’s plot was inspired by James Agee’s book "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men."

It is springtime in a rural, Depression-era Midwestern town, and the Moss family is preparing to celebrate both the spring harvest and the high school graduation of eldest daughter Laurie. Two itinerant workers, Top and Martin, arrive in town, and Grandpa Moss recruits their aid for the harvest. As weeks pass, Laurie and Martin begin to fall in love, to the chagrin of Laurie’s family.

The role of Grandpa Moss will be played by Interlochen Arts Academy alumnus Cedric Berry. Currently the assistant chair of the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, Berry is also an active operatic performer with the Los Angeles Opera Company.

Berry has played the role of Grandpa Moss several times before—including a previous performance at Interlochen. “Copland wrote very beautiful music,” he said of his continued enjoyment of the opera. “His music encapsulates and embodies the American spirit. The chorus from the end of Act One of The Tender Land, ‘The Promise of Living,’ is a very beautiful piece which is often performed separately.”

Berry’s familiarity with the opera is not his only motivation to return to Interlochen: Berry described performing at Interlochen as something he has always wanted to do. “Every performer wants to go back to Interlochen,” he said. “I was there as a camper in middle school, back when the program was eight weeks instead of six. I came back for my junior and senior year at the academy, and then again the year after I graduated as a recruiting counselor.”

“This is one of my favorite places on earth,” Berry continued. “Few other places are as beautiful, warm, and comfortable. To come back to a place that made such an impact on me, and to be able to do what I love to do, is not only an honor, but also a privilege.”

Addy Sterret, who is cast as Laurie’s younger sister Beth, is equally excited to return to her alma mater. Currently a sophomore at De Pauw University, Sterret followed in her older sister’s footsteps by graduating from Interlochen Arts Academy. “Interlochen has always had a special place in my heart,” she said. “As a kid, my family would come up to see [my sister] perform in the orchestra and band.”

Sterret enjoys the unique “foil” function that her character, Beth Moss, serves in the story’s theme. “Beth has a very significant role in strengthening the theme of growing up throughout the opera,” she said. “While her sister Laurie experiences a loss of innocence, Beth very much remains a child, exposed but unchanged by the events of the opera.”

Interlochen alumni Ian Greenlaw and Bernard Holcomb play Top and Martin, respectively, in their homecoming. Greenlaw, a baritone, has made appearances with the Metropolitan Opera, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Eastman School of Music alumnus has appeared as the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro and Peter in Hansel and Gretel.

Greenlaw’s counterpart, Bernard Holcomb, is a Detroit native who currently resides in New York City and has performed extensively in the city of Chicago. Holcomb’s  upcoming season features roles in the Lyric Opera’s production of Porgy and Bess and the Chicago Opera Theater’s double feature of Emperor of Atlantis and The Clever One.

The cast of alumni and faculty is joined by two special guests, conductor James Bagwell and soprano Anne Jennifer. Faculty members Aidan Soder, John Bragle, Peg Cleveland, Keith Brown and Laura Brown round out the cast.

Two students are also a part of The Tender Land cast: Walker Durell will appear as the First Man, and Nicholas Lin will portray the Second Man.

The Tender Land will be performed on July 31 and August 1 at 8 p.m. in Upton-Morley Pavilion. The August 1 performance will also be broadcast live on Interlochen Public Radio. Get tickets at tickets.interlochen.org/tender-land.

—Melissa Luby

Read: What was it like to dance for Aaron Copland?

Martha Graham Artistic Director and Interlochen alumna Janet Eilber shares her memories of a revolutionary artist. Read more here.

Read: Copland’s Achievement

A handful of compositions by Aaron Copland (1900-1990) written in the late 1930s and early 1940s—El Salón México and A Lincoln Portrait for orchestra, Fanfare for the Common Man for brass and percussion, and the orchestral suites from the ballets Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring—rank among the most popular and revered American works ever written for the concert stage. Read more here.

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