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Written and directed opera, Strange Fruit, was a success for Dr. Volk

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By Madison Hildebrand

CSU-Pueblo Today Photo/ Madison Hildebrand
Shai Funk, flute extraordinaire, contributed a soft, fleeting sound to the orchestral compositions.

Hoag Hall was home to a very special performance for three nights from September 1-3, showcasing CSU-Pueblo’s own Dr. David Volk’s newly-written opera, Strange Fruit.

The storyline was based on a 1944 novel by progressive author Lillian Smith that Volk became enamored with as a sophomore in college. The opera, which consisted of two acts and lasted around two and a half hours, drew a sizable audience as it conveyed the tale of Nonnie and Tracy, an interracial couple in Georgia just after the end of World War I.

An opera is a performance of dramatic storytelling set to orchestral music and melodious, vocalized text, or libretto.

Volk became inspired with this type of performance as a high school student at the Brevard Music Center in North Carolina and made it his goal to write his own. According to Volk, it took a few years to get started. “I thought about my ideas of writing this opera nearly 30 years ago on my 48th birthday last November–an awareness that I had once thought I would spend my life writing opera and realizing that half my life had basically disappeared with only one chamber opera (my doctoral dissertation) to show for it–it was time to get started!”

He buckled down and made it his 2017 new year’s resolution to spend at least one minute a day on the opera, finishing it by spring break of this year.With a 14-person orchestra, a dedicated crew, and a full cast of compelling characters, Strange Fruit exhibited CSU-Pueblo’s talented music department on show night.

CSU-Pueblo TodayPhoto/Madison Hildebrand
Strange Fruit tells the tale of Nonnie and Tracy, an interracial couple struggling to make it work in early 1900’s Georgia. Eldaa Bouffartique played Nonnie, and Todd Pourciaux depicted Tracy.

The voices of skilled singers like Todd Pourciaux as Tracy and Rachel Pope as Dorothy pierced the air of the recital hall with bravado and passion. Eldaa Bouffartique, who played main character Nonnie during the final two performances, gave an especially powerful and impressive performance, drawing applause from the crowd in the middle of the opera after her emotional depiction of the second scene of the second act. It was her debut in a CSU-Pueblo performance, and her impassioned and believable performance likely makes her a contender for many more productions.

The singers were accompanied by the harmonious overture of the musical ensemble that read as a mixture of classical-sounding melodies sometimes punctuated with a contemporary quality and drum beat which, according to the professor, is not common in opera. “I intentionally decided to incorporate elements of popular styles of music into the score – not just church hymn tunes, but also ragtime, blues, and elements that might sound a bit more musical theater than opera,” Volk said.  It’s an ‘Americana’ work, and I felt it needed ‘American’ musical elements included.”

As Strange Fruit came to an end, the orchestra, cast, crew, and Professor Volk himself received a standing ovation from the crowd, signaling how impressed the attendees were with the performance. Volk seemed pretty proud, as well, and keen on rewarding those who had helped make his dream come true. “I owe you hot dogs,” he told the orchestra as the crowd filed out of the hall.