An operatic take on classic works

The Saint Mary’s College Department of Music presented “Lost in a Book,” a collection of opera scenes, songs, and arias from great works of literature. The performance, which ran February 24 and 25, was written and directed by Elizabeth Schleicher. It featured a mix of undergraduate students from St. Mary’s and Notre Dame and members of the South Bend community. 

The performance consisted of selections from various operatic adaptations of classical works of literature, including a scene from Bizet’s Carmen, as well as two collections of scenes from Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon and Mark Adamo’s Little Women

In an interview with the Rover, Schleicher shared that she conceived of the idea for “Lost in a Book” because she “wanted to create something that was a little bit more cohesive than just pulling scenes from different shows. … I tried to find operas that were connected with great literature.” 

The show differed from the traditional opera workshop—which often consists of a collection of different scenes without a unifying element. Schleicher explained: “I felt that we could actually link these [scenes] together in a way that really made it feel like a short show itself, as opposed to just these little vignettes that we were taking out of the other shows.”  This decision gave a unity to the performance. The use of scenes from well-known works of literature made “Lost in a book” something in which, according to Schleicher, “someone who is not familiar with opera might actually be drawn to the performance.”  

The show followed two children on a visit to their grandparents’ house with their mother. While the adults talk downstairs, the children keep themselves busy in their mother’s old room, looking through her books. It is through these books that “we see these scenes come to life. Sometimes the sisters are a part of it, sometimes the scenes just live around them,” says Schleicher.

Notre Dame sophomore Madeline Murphy, who played the role of la Fee [the fairy] in Cendrillon and Jo in Little Women, said, “My favorite part of the show is my aria from Cendrillon, a French opera that tells the story of Cinderella.” Murphy explained what inspired her to perform, saying, “After I saw an opera for the first time, I fell in love with the art, and I knew I wanted to be in one as soon as possible.” Performing in the roles of La fee in Cendrillon and Jo in Little Women was a new experience for Madeline. She said, “This was the most challenging music I have ever had to learn, and it helped me become a better musician … I am extremely proud of the final result!” [Editor’s note: Madeline Murphy serves as campus editor for the Rover]

Julia Zusi, student director who also played Cinderella in Cendrillon, said of her part in the show, “Professor Schleicher asked me to student-direct since I had assistant music directed Legally Blonde at Saint Mary’s College last semester, and she knew it was an interest of mine. I learned how to be creative and about the art and nature of opera.”

“Lost in a Book” was also well received by students in the audience. Notre Dame junior Janey Olohan called the performance a “fantastic” experience, while Notre Dame sophomore Ellie Knapp praised the performance, saying, “Though this was my first opera show, I thought that the Saint Mary’s Music Department did [an amazing] job. It was clear the entire team put a lot of effort into making the show a success. Specific details like the lighting, the costumes, and the thoughtful structure of scenes helped to augment an already performance.” 

Though the performers only had six weeks to practice, Knapp was impressed with the production: “The emotion in the performance was astounding. Everyone conveyed the conflict and emotion of their scene with a unique blend of body language and vocal inflection.” 

6-year-old Evie Schleicher, Elizabeth Schleicher’s daughter, also had high praise for the production. She told the Rover that Cinderella was her favorite and that she liked, “when the stepsisters were getting on their fancy boas,” recalling a duet in which Cailynn Murphy and Georgia Sigler sang the parts of the stepsisters as they prepared to go to the ball. Evie’s younger sister, Dorothy, also enjoyed the costumes. She said she liked all the dresses, but her favorite costume was that of Mrs. Hedgehog from the scene from Fantastic Mr. Fox

The family-friendly performance was open to the public and was well attended. Though St. Mary’s will not put on another opera for two years, the Notre Dame Department of Music will be performing a modern adaptation of Monteverdi’s“L’incoronazione di Poppea” April 27–30, 2023.

Gretchen Siegel is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies. Contact her with any opera recommendations at

Photo Credit: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, The Reading

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