New opera director named after 52 years

A new opera director is in charge at Simpson College for the first time in 52 years named Bernard McDonald.

After taking on many musical endeavors around the world, McDonald has found himself in Indianola directing Simpson’s opera program.

“I feel like I needed to find a home and, all of a sudden, home was going to be Indianola,” McDonald said.

McDonald first learned of the job from a colleague in professional opera.

The search for a new director was prompted by the retirement of Robert L. Larsen.

Larsen, founder of the opera program, holds high regards for McDonald and believes he will make positive changes to the program.

“He is well-qualified and I am particularly excited that he sees the program at Simpson as unique and wonderful, as I always have, and wants to perpetuate its strengths and help it to grow,” Larsen said.

With a new director, opera-goers can expect a change of approach in how productions are conceived and staged. Often, different directors will focus on different aspects of an opera, McDonald said.

“There will be changes in the way things are done and that’s the way it should be, but he does have respect for the way things have been done,” Larsen said.

One contribution McDonald provides is that he wants to involve the entire campus in opera activities.

“Opera is a very difficult endeavor,” McDonald said. “It involves dozens and dozens of people and lots of creative people. It is the original multimedia art form.”

One organization that is helping the opera is Students in Free Enterprise (SIFE). This group is taking on marketing endeavors to ensure good attendance to upcoming Simpson operas.

Much of the preparation involved in the opera is behind the scenes. This can range from set design to costume design, make-up, art and lighting.

“I am thrilled to have creative partners already in students and faculty from the theater, art and business departments, and the Simpson PR Office has been hugely helpful,” McDonald said.

Students have taken notice of McDonald’s efforts in involving many groups on campus.

“One of the things he did was to have a meeting where all of the outside contributors came and talked to the opera students to explain what they were doing.” sophomore SIFE member Ryan Rohlf said.

McDonald acknowledges that opera carries “cultural baggage.” He believes all people, whether music major or not, could benefit from working with or attending an opera.

“Opera is not just about music,” McDonald said. “Opera can be a catalyst for inquiry in all of the humanities. You have drama, literature, language, history, politics, sociology, religion, and cultural representations of gender and sexuality. It’s all there.”

Junior Sam Carroll recognizes that stepping in for Larsen would be a difficult task because of Larsen’s prominent reputation at Simpson and with the Des Moines Metro Opera.

“I think Bernard has come to Simpson and really just embraced the Simpson College music department just like he’s been here his entire life,” Carroll said.

McDonald was aware of Larsen’s long history with Simpson and of his contributions to music and kept this in mind throughout the interview process.

“I was aware that if I were to be offered the job and if I were to accept the job that it would represent a major generational shift in the department,” McDonald said.

The curtain will open for McDonald as he conducts his first opera for the Simpson College and Indianola community.

Die Fledermaus: The Revenge of the Bat will debut Friday, Oct. 28 in the Blank Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Subsequent performances will take place Saturday, Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 30 at 2 p.m. Call 515-961-1637 for tickets.

McDonald cordially invites all students and community members to attend the first production of a new era in Simpson Opera.