Speed dating tonight: A unique opera-tunity


Nathan Janzen, Arts and Entertainment Editor

On Feb. 25 and 26, a group of students from the Conservatory for the Performing Arts presented Dean Anthony and Michael Ching’s “Speed Dating Tonight,” a contemporary opera with a one-of-a-kind structure. The musical silhouettes of daters in an imaginary Fargo, North Dakota, have been in continuous development since 2013. The work blends musical styles and genres in its list of over one hundred scene options for performing institutions. In addition, many of Ching’s more whimsical musical creations—that is, those that are not direct copies of Mozart or variations on other composers’ melodies—defy and ignore the voice leading and part-writing strictures that generally make music easier to learn for performers. 

The result is a show that is always unique and sounds beautiful to the ear, but is difficult for singers to learn at first. Two of these singers, senior Zack Anderson and super-senior Zane Rader, sat down with the Lumen on February 28th to reflect on the production and how it has assisted their growth as musicians. 

When asked about the most challenging aspect of the production, Rader said it was the singing tone his unique scenes required of him, which he called a “jazzy, bluesy rock n’ roll style.” He noted, “I don’t normally sing in that way, as I am getting classically trained. Trying to [bring out] that quality in my voice took a little bit of time…however, I think it went really well.” Anderson, in turn, noted the production’s uniqueness as a whole. “The most challenging part about learning this show…was how everything was going to be put together [in the beginning process] and how transitions were going to [happen] from a logistical standpoint.” He also saw a challenge in “putting it into a more classical voice type versus having the traditional ‘contemporary’ voice.”  

On the topic of what stuck out to him as the most unique aspect of “Speed Dating Tonight,” Rader pointed out that it gave the opportunity to “perform something that was written within the past 20 years rather than…the past 50 or 150 years.” In connection to this, he added, “There were unique experiences harmonically and rhythmically…even within the opening number being in one-time signature for the performers and [another] for the band.”  

Anderson commented, “Clearly, the most unique thing about the show was the amount of creative [power] the directors had [in] creating the show themselves, as it got to be made based on the people who auditioned. The fact that we were able to showcase all the students who wanted partake in the production—in whatever voice type they had—was really nice. It could be a great first introduction to opera for some people.” 

When asked how participating in “Speed Dating Tonight” would help the performers in their future work, Rader expressed that it would be beneficial for young singers’ resumes. In a sense, “Speed Dating Tonight” provides a stand-out resume note for young singers whose portfolios are often filled with the word “ensemble.” To him, it was powerful that “Everyone has a character that is named or has a specific ‘thing’ about them that can be used for auditions or…a resume.”   

Anderson chose to highlight the “pick-and-choose” structure of the opera’s scenes. “Each production is like its own new work…where the creative team is putting together a show that has never been done in [that] variation before.”  

As to whether they would use their pieces from “Speed Dating Tonight” in future professional auditions, Rader pondered, “If I’m going for ‘All Shook Up’, maybe…[or] something…in that jazzy, bluesy style.” Anderson said, “I wouldn’t use my song for any auditions, but I would definitely look at different songs in the show; [some] are much more operatic than the others.” 

Overall, the two singers expressed that the rewards of their work far outweighed the initial challenge. The work they have completed will carry into the future—perhaps in situations that might seem unlikely at present…such as a night of speed dating at a bar in Fargo.