Westmont Opera performs Copland’s “The Tender Land,” a gripping Americana coming-of-age story

“Tender Land, Tender Land, I want to hold your hand” — Keegan Perez

Katie Ticas, Guest Writer

Fourteen singers and 12 instrumentalists from Westmont’s music department are set to perform Aaron Copland’s “The Tender Land” at Center Stage Theatre on Jan. 28 and 30. Dr. Michael Shasberger, head of Westmont’s music department and the Adams Chair of Music and Worship, said this year’s opera is part of a sequence of operas performed by Westmont that represents the classic American 20th-century opera style. 

Vocalists returned to campus one week prior to the start of spring semester for a week of staging and music rehearsal dubbed “opera boot camp.” Second-year mathematics, physics and music triple major Chandler Baker said: “opera boot camp week was the best week of my year.”

Orchestra students returned the following week to play through the opera’s score. First-year violinist Sophia Chan enjoyed rehearsing with the vocalists for the first time: “it was awesome to hear the opera coming together.” This is Chan’s first opera and she said it has been “very fun and definitely a new experience from other orchestra settings.” 

Christina Jensen, beloved Westmont and Havard graduate school alumna, returned for her second year as opera stage director. Jensen expressed her joy to be working with college students in the arts: “the passion of the liberal arts is that everyone gets involved.”

Jensen’s love for performance started when she was an undergraduate at Westmont in the early 2000s, and she is glad to return to the place where her love for theater and music began. Whether she’s coaching individual actors, leading group improvisation activities or giving staging cues, Christina’s vision and love for her craft shines through. 

“The Tender Land” follows the bright and curious 16-year-old Laurie Moss as she reminisces on her life at the cusp of her high school graduation. The Moss family places high expectations on Laurie’s future, seeing as she’s the first in her family to graduate high school and in the midst of the Great Depression, no less.

The Moss family are a hardworking bunch who want the best for Laurie but don’t trust outsiders due to mysterious, unnamed conflict. When two travelers named Martin and Top show up at the Moss family farm, they happily agree to work for Grandpa Moss, but Ma Moss has doubts about their nebulous past. 

After a whirlwind of celebrations and secrets, Laurie reckons with the meaning of community, trust and love. In the end, Laurie will have to choose: stay in her beautiful hometown farm or run away with the charming, adventurous Martin?

While Dr. Michael Shasberger’s final opera as the head of Westmont’s music department will feel bittersweet, Shasberger hopes this opera will “enliven the soul, create discussion and open people’s minds to see themselves and their environments in a new way.”

When asked if this will be the last time he directs a Westmont opera, Dr. Shasberger chuckled, “I’m always holding out for the ‘maybes.’”

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