Hannah Nies

A recent graduate of Wellesley College, Hannah Nies is working as a production assistant for Madison Opera’s “Lucia di Lammermore.”

When Madison Opera’s production of “Lucia di Lammermore” opens next weekend, it will be thanks in part to one Waunakee woman.

Hannah Nies is a production assistant, ensuring costume changes go smoothly and the characters are on stage at the right time.

As Nies put it, her role “essentially means I go where they tell me and lift heavy objects. I’m a minion.”

Nies grew up in Waunakee and began studying acting around age 7 with Whitney Beck when Beck led children’s theater workshops. After graduating from Waunakee Community High School, Nies went on to college at Wellesley College in Massachusetts to major in English and theater.

“It’s no secret to anybody that I’m a big fan of theater,” Nies said, “I just like stories that are meaningful and have relevance to our lives today.”

While Nies was studying classical music in high school, vocal instructor Molly Petroff recommended she join an apprentice program with Madison Opera, a fun experience.

“We got to sing with the Madison Symphony Orchestra choir; we performed at Opera in the Park. We got to see some of the rehearsal process for another opera that they were doing,” Nies said.

When Nies recently saw that Madison Opera was looking for young people to serve as production assistants, she applied.

In college, Nies was member of the college’s Shakespeare Society, acting in shows and directing. She hadn’t studied music in a while, so during her first week of rehearsals with Madison Opera, she faced some challenges. Once again, she’s reading music as she follows the score to time the performers’ exits and entrances on stage. That’s necessary for planning costume changes backstage.

“It’s kind of challenging to follow along in the music, to find the exact time that person exits, write it down and keep track of everybody else,” Nies said.

“Lucia di Lammermore” is high drama, with a wedding, a murder, insanity, forbidden love and overbearing siblings, Nies said. She thinks just about everyone will find it relatable.

“I think everybody’s been in love. Everybody’s got family relationships that aren’t necessarily what you’d want them to be,” Nies said.

While opera is often seen as theater for the elite, Nies hopes Madison Opera’s productions can be enjoyed by all.

“I hope that when we perform, there’s a lot of people who are comfortable being there just how they are, if that makes sense. Because it’s going to be a very fun show, murder aside,” Nies said.

Nies is also impressed with Jeni Houser, the lead soprano who plays Lucia.

“I’m pretty sure she’s not of this Earth,” she said.

Happy to have the theater job during the pandemic, Nies says it is providing another learning opportunity in stage management. She’d like to direct plays and create a safe, inclusive environment in the theater. Nies noted recent reports of allegations of sexual abuse and homophobia in productions of “Hamilton” and “West Side Story,” shows that have been perceived as inclusive.

“It’s just kind of like, oh, we can’t have nice things, can we? I want to have nice things and make sure that other people have nice things, too, in a safe way,” Nies said.

While Nies is focused on Shakespeare and classical theater, she would love to see more marginalized groups creating and telling their own stories for the stage, she said.

Nies is not alone. This season, the New York Metropolitan Opera Company is premiering the first opera by a Black composer, Charles Blow and Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones.” It will be performed in Chicago and Los Angeles in the spring.

“I just want art to be better. And I think art becomes better when more people are making it,” Nies said.

Madison Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermore” will be performed Friday, Nov. 5 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Nov. 7 at 2:30 p.m., in Overture Hall. The opera is sung in Italian with projected English translations. For tickets, visit madisonopera.org.

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