By DAN KLAPHEKE
Many people would assume operas feature large men in robes singing in Italian to an equally large woman. Most people’s first guess would not assume an opera could feature something as popular as baseball could.
Last Friday and Saturday, April 4 and 5, the EKU Opera Guild performed The Mighty Casey at the EKU Center for the Arts’ Black Box Theater. The opera was a musical rendition of Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s poem Casey at the Bat and added a fresh layer of depth to the classic poem.
The opera follows the town of Mudville’s beloved baseball team through the last inning of a dire game. All hope is put in the star player Casey, but with the pressure of the town, the talent scouts and his girlfriend, he may be unable to live up to expectations.
The large attendance of first performance on Friday surprised some of the performers.
“Opening night went really well,” said John Mathre, 19, a music theory and composition freshman from Taylorsville, “There was a much larger turnout than what we expected. The performance was almost perfect.”
Before Mudville could be brought to life, however, the Opera Guild underwent some struggles.
The organization had lost its Registered Student Organization status with the music department and, like the poem says, “The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day.”
Joyce Wolf, director of the Opera Guild and faculty advisor of the music department, said regaining RSO status wasn’t something a faculty member could do. But the determination of Opera Guild President Emily Welch saved the organization.
“She worked so hard to regain our RSO status and did it almost entirely by herself,” Wolf said before the performance.
Instead of donning viking caps and epic robes, the cast suited up in 1920s-style wardrobes and baseball uniforms. The set included two dugouts, an infield and a fan section directly behind the batter’s box.
The story did not stray far from the poem. The character of the Watchman, played by Chase Ramage, narrated each line throughout the performance and was accompanied by a song from the cast. The mood mimicked a sporting event by adding moments of joy within the rising tension of the game.
The show had its comedic moments as the fans hated on the umpire and the opposing team’s catcher and pitcher plotted against Casey and his team.
“Keep nodding your head like we’re talking about something real important,” The catcher said.
Sadly, the game does not end well for the mighty Casey. He strikes out and leaves the whole town in anguish as they sing No Joy in Mudville. Unlike the poem, however, the opera goes beyond the last strike and focuses on Casey himself.
As Ramage’s Watchman said, “What’s in Casey’s mind? How does a man survive such a thing?”
He does not have any speaking lines, but the titular character proves that in the end, baseball is just a game and he will recover from the loss. He still has his girlfriend and the town will still support him through and through.