Meet the Creative Team for Anna Hunter

What’s it like to premiere a new opera about the Historic city of Savannah? We asked our creative team behind the Anna Hunter project about their experiences with this legacy.

Michael Ching, Composer of Anna Hunter

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a composer, lyricist, librettist, and songwriter based in Iowa.

How does is feel performing in a world premiere in a role nobody else has ever created before?

With the same cast for a May reading and an August workshop, I’ve been able to tweak the opera for the performers, especially Maria, who plays Anna.

Read Michael's full interview

How does it feel to write about real historic characters?

Historic characters are fine when they are known, but not TOO known. I can’t imagine what it would be like to write an opera about a major historic figure like Washington or Lincoln.

How different is it performing in an historic space (a house) instead of a theatre?

Having Anna Hunter play in the Historic Davenport House is truly magical. I’ve never really had an opera done in the space where it actually took place!

What do you think will be a lasting memory of this experience with Anna Hunter and the city of Savannah?

I am curious to see if ANNA HUNTER is something that works outside of Savannah and will be soliciting performances of it elsewhere. I’ve been gratified with how much Savannah natives have taken to the piece. I’m particularly grateful to Jamie Credle and everyone at the Davenport House for embracing the project. Indeed, it might serve as a model for how other house museums could collaborate with arts organizations to make their stories come alive.

 

Maria Zouves, SVF Executive Director playing Anna Hunter

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a Greek-American Soprano who has sung nationally and who co-founded the Savannah VOICE Festival and serves as its Executive Director.

How does is feel performing in a world premiere in a role nobody else has ever created before?

In this day and age of classical music being more of a museum genre, It is an amazing feeling to have a role written for you by a modern and talented composer!

Read Maria's full interview

How do you feel about playing a real historic character?

Unlike a fictitious character where the librettist is your resource, It’s a great responsibility to ‘get it right’. Looking at her photos and talking to her family and other people who knew her gives me a bigger advantage than say, a historic character of a past century, where you have to assume certain things. But the flip side is that you want to do that personality justice while still putting your own voice to it.

How different is it performing in an historic space (a house) instead of a theatre?

Savannah VOICE Festival tends to turn untraditional spaces into theatre settings so we are familiar with the formula, but the salon setting of Anna speaks to me personally as an artist. I love the intimacy. It feels very different to look around at the actual walls about which you are singing, rather than a set made to represent it. It’s awe inspiring and very singer friendly at the Davenport! Especially when the team at the Davenport have been so welcoming and excited about this initiative. It’s a real partnership with the museum.

What do you think will be a lasting memory of this experience with Anna Hunter and the city of Savannah?

When in the middle of my aria in the Previews, I caught a view out of the corner of my eye of Anna Hunter’s Granddaughter in the audience… and she was crying! Afterwards she said, “You all really nailed it!” and gave me a big hug. That’s an amazing feeling that I will never forget. Anna speaks to me is so many ways as a doer, a high energy spirit, someone who believes in “place” and a person who loves to bring people together — a real party lady!

 

Jamie Credle, Director of the Davenport House Museum

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a native North Carolinian who has worked in the museums business since 1985 and have had wonderful tenures at The Museums at Stony Brook – Long Island, Shadows-on-the-Teche – Louisiana, Cape Fear Museum – North Carolina, McFaddin-Ward House – Texas, Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens – Ohio before arriving at the Davenport House in 2002.

What is it like transforming your museum into an operatic theater?

It is a revelation. We do living history shows in the museum all the time but having world-class performers present a work that is tailor-made for the museum as a performance venue and is about the museum (and museum work) is degrees beyond special! We have been impressed with the professionalism of the staff – front office, tech people, pr folks – as well as the classical trained and exceptionally talented performers. Everyone has been sensitive to what a special place the Davenport House is and that makes the work all the more gratifying – knowing that we are not going to have to deal with a maintenance or preservation issue once the music stops. Every things was been well thought out – lighting, seating, sound (of course).

Read Jamie's full interview

How does it feel to be working so closely with opera singers and the composer of a new work?

Jeff, Raleigh and I were blown away when we attended the “Arias” performance at the Savannah Music Festival in prelude to finalizing the use of the DH as a setting for Anna Hunter. So we sort of knew what it might be like – to hear the performers sing in the house. However, the vocal power and vocal quality is making an impactful memory (memories) for me. I love performers – they are people pleasers. And, I have been told that the most successful performers are nice, courteous people. This has proven the case with the Anna Hunter vocalists. They have been courteous and solicitous of the DH and its people. If has been fun to see the audiences reactions to a new work since they have not been conditioned, as they sometimes are, with an established work. I was taken aback at how thoroughly Michael researched what we do at the DH. He visited the house on several occasions and took our tour multiple times. He was sensitive to the things a tour guide would be sensitive too. Very impressive and remarkable.

How do you connect with the character of Louise, the tour guide in training?

I appreciate her desire to get it right. We hope that all of our tour guides are thoughtful in their tour preparation and struggle with just the right words. I hope all of our docents and tour guides will take the opportunity to see the show and see something of themselves in Louise. Receiving their name badge as a sign of accomplishment really does mean something to our docents.

What do you think will be a lasting memory of this experience with Anna Hunter and the city of Savannah?

I am bowled over that Michael and Savannah Voice Festival found our work worthy of artistic expression. We know the Anna Hunter and the Seven Ladies did was monumental but for those laboring in the trenches as tour guides – knowing that artists find this work worthy – is unexpectedly gratifying. Who writes songs about giving tours? Who write songs about gift shops? Who writes songs about the struggle to put a tour together that brings weight and spirit to the subject matter? – Michael Ching. A lasting memory – an affirmation that what we do really does have value and that what has happened – the transformation of the city by thoughtful people – preservationists – has been remarkable and is worthy of artistic expression.

What does Anna’s story mean to you?

That years after the fact a woman’s work is appreciated all the more. The Anna story is about the impact that one person can have on the world. One person can make a difference. One person can start a movement. It is an inspiration.

What does this experience mean to you?

I was lucky. Even though I am from the rural south, my parents took me to the theater as a child. It was usually musical theater – “Mary Poppins,” “Oliver,” “Oklahoma,” “Camelot,” “Cinderella.” I used to listen to those records over and over and over. But then I grew up and sort of put music in a drawer. This experience has reintroduced me to beautiful music and how it makes me feel on an everyday basis. I love vocal music and feel incredible lucky that Anna Hunter has taken place on my watch. I am a fan and there is no looking back!

 

Jeff Freeman, Assistant Director of the Davenport House Museum

Tell us a little about yourself.

Virginia born, military veteran (don’t ask when), BA in History from Maryland, misguided but fairly successful career in Information Technology until I found a home and an outlet for my passion for history here at the Davenport House Museum.

What is it like transforming your museum into an operatic theater?

I’ve seen so many different and wonderful things here at the Davenport House that we just sort of roll with the flow when it comes to new experiences. This was a minimal amount of work for us that produced an outstanding result. We like that!

Read Jeff's full interview

How does it feel to be working so closely with opera singers and the composer of a new work?

Being around creative and talented people with a passion for what they do is refreshing and energizing. It was inspiring and transformative. You made a big fan out of me!

How do you connect with the character of Louise, the tour guide in training?

I’ve seen a lot of people come through training with the kind of passion and intensity her character portrays. They are so intent and stressed about getting everything right. After the first few nerve-racking tours, though, they settle down and begin to enjoy educating and entertaining their audience while at the same time realizing that they are carrying on the legacy of Anna Hunter and others like her in preserving Savannah’s past.

What do you think will be a lasting memory of this experience with Anna Hunter and the city of Savannah?

I hope more people will realize the amazing scope and diversity of the talent this city is able to draw and take advantage of it, especially by taking a risk and stepping outside of your comfort zone to experience something new!

What does Anna’s story mean to you?

It is an example of someone recognizing a problem and rather than sitting back, wringing their hands and wondering what can be done, she took action and changed the course of the city’s history. Anyone can make a difference if they choose to act. Even small acts of compassion can lead to a large impact down the road!

 

Melanie Campbell, soprano playing Quortina in Anna Hunter

Tell us a little about yourself.

A former All state shot putter turned opera singer who loves to sing!

How does is feel performing in a world premiere in a role nobody else has ever created before?

It feels amazing creating a role from my personal perspective.

Read Melanie's full interview

How do you feel about playing a real historic character?

I am honored to play such a powerful character.. who is part of my historic ancestors.

How different is it performing in an historic space (a house) instead of a theatre?

In a theater we try to create a space close to the original space. Here we are in the original space and the walls are talking to you! It is just amazing, there is no show like it.

What do you think will be a lasting memory of this experience with Anna Hunter and the city of Savannah?

The Audience! Performing for the Amazing People in Savannah!

 

Jeffrey Martin, baritone playing Mr. Progress

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a choir nerd turned Opera Singer.

How does is feel performing in a world premiere in a role nobody else has ever created before?

It’s exhilarating! It’s also unique because any person who plays the role after you will base their performance in the choices you made.

Read Jeffrey's full interview

How do you feel about playing a real historic character?

I am playing the embodiment of the problem, which is really fun!

How different is it performing in an historic space (a house) instead of a theatre?

The architecture and decor of the historic space help create this aura that we try to recreate in the theater. It’s a fun creative challenge to use the space as part of your character building.

What do you think will be a lasting memory of this experience with Anna Hunter and the city of Savannah?

The historic society will grow stronger in membership and fervor. More people will come to know how this great city was saved in the 1950s from destruction.

 

Emily Grace Righter, mezzo soprano playing Louise

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a mezzo soprano with a passion for the wonderful gift of music.

How does it feel performing in a world premiere in a role nobody else has ever created before?

The opportunity to be singing Louise for the first time in history thrills me to the core. She and I share very similar qualities, so I am eternally grateful to Michael Ching for the experience to explore such a complex, beautiful character through song and text.

Read Emily's full interview

How different is it performing in an historic space (a house) instead of a theatre?

We, the artists, are able to feel the presence of these historic characters and all that which they must have experienced throughout the years. It has also been such a joy getting to know the people who care for the Davenport House (behind the scenes), because they truly exude the passion in which Louise most definitely held for that house.

What do you think will be a lasting memory of this experience with Anna Hunter and the city of Savannah?

My newfound appreciation for what it means to be a strong woman making her mark in history.

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