Opera Comes to Kendal - "Strawberry Fields" Forever!

It’s not unusual for Oberlin Conservatory faculty and students to stage an opera. But this time, they did so with “a little help from some friends!”

Bringing together Oberlin Conservatory of Music voice students, and residents of nearby Kendal at Oberlin, a retirement community, for a production of “Strawberry Fields,” a one act opera, is quite a feat. It is the brainchild of Associate Professor of Opera, Sally Stunkel, who has directed over 100 operas throughout her career. She is one of the foremost acting teachers for opera singers in the country.  The project is an offering for Conservatory students during winter term.

An Intergenerational Collaboration

This is a combination of circumstances that demonstrates the benefits of a college town that treasures intergenerational experiences.  Oberlin College and its Conservatory of Music and Kendal at Oberlin have enjoyed collaborative efforts for over two decades..

“Strawberry Fields,” written in 1999 by composer Michael Torke, revolves around an unnamed elderly woman, with dementia.  She wanders into the section of New York City’s Central Park, named Strawberry Fields, in memory of John Lennon. A lover of opera for 50+ years, the elderly woman believes she has arrived at the opera, and takes a seat on a park bench. A Columbia College student, with a similar passion for John Lennon’s music, sits nearby and as they share their passions, the woman is able to make a brief, but real, connection with the student. Other members of the cast include the woman’s son, daughter, nurse, workman, passersby in the park and the chorus.  The subject matter is treated with compassion and respect.

Professor Stunkel said, “While I am normally limited to students in the ensembles of opera, real life has people of all ages in it and I am delighted to have them represented, especially since this is an opera about age and generations. The Kendal residents onstage remind us that age does not necessarily bring infirmity or dementia. I also wanted to represent Kendal’s involvement in more ways than just their support, but also with their people.”

Kendal at Oberlin Residents Perform and Help with Set Design

Kendal at Oberlin’s residents involved in the opera include an accomplished musician and vocalist, who plays the workman and sings in the chorus; a professor emeritus and scene designer, who is  designing and constructing the scenes, with the help of Oberlin College students; and other Kendal residents, with music backgrounds, are included in the chorus.

Sally Stunkel and Michele Tarsitano-Amato, Kendal’s Creative Arts Therapy Director and Certified Dementia Specialist, are collaborating in this intergenerational effort. They met when Sally’s mother was a resident at Kendal. The performance of this opera is a tribute to Sally’s mother, who in her later years was diagnosed with dementia. Prior to this she was a personal research psychologist and accomplished dancer, who performed internationally.

With Michele’s extensive knowledge of dementia, she provided an interactive- presentation, to students involved in the opera. This educational piece is vastly important as the students take on the roles of their characters.

While only associated with The Beatles’ music through its setting, this opera has a strong message that relates to several of their songs including “Let It Be,” and  “Imagine.” Sally and Michelle hope that the audience takes with them the thought that cognitive loss does not define the person.  “Let it be” and let them “imagine” their own reality.


Below is a video slide show by Dale Preston, depicting scenery installation and rehearsal at both Wilder Hall and Kendal at Oberlin:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DAzVGyM0vA]

 Performance Schedule:

  • Tuesday, January 27th 7:00PM at Kendal at Oberlin, Heiser Auditorium
  • Friday, January 30th  8:00PM at Oberlin College Wilder Hall, in the ‘Sco
  • Saturday, January 31st 2:00PM at Oberlin College Wilder Hall, in the ‘Sco
Story by Nancy Freed, photos and video by Dale Preston

After the Show:

The Oberlin Opera Theater performance of”Strawberry Fields” opened at Kendal at Oberlin on Tuesday, January 27th. Seats filled the auditorium and the adjacent Heiser Lounge with little room for more. The voices of the student and resident performers were fabulous, and the scenery elements created by Bob Cothran were stunning.

Photographer Dale Preston was also on hand to capture some video reaction from audience members, cast and director, Sally Stunkel.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VINKnpdVQE]

This intergenerational project between the Oberlin Conservatory and Kendal at Oberlin beautifully illustrates the wonderful intergenerational opportunities you can experience as a resident of our vibrant community.

For more information about Kendal at Oberlin, visit kao.kendal.org, or give us a call at 1-800-548-9469.