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Sac State students stage mini ‘opera’


Brittney Underwood, Taj Costa and Vong Thao work on the prologue of "The Devil's Highway."

A mini “opera” coming to Sacramento State is more than just a musical production – it’s also an educational project that reaches across several subject fields.

The Devil’s Highway will be performed at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, in Capistrano Hall Room 151. It is based on Luis Alberto Urrea’s acclaimed book of the same name, which is this year’s One Book at Sacramento State.

The University’s One Book program chooses a book for all students, faculty, staff and alumni to read, creating a shared experience. Various events held in conjunction with the reading include discussions, service projects and a visit by the author.

The Devil’s Highway tells the true story of a tragic crossing of immigrant workers from Mexico into the United States. When professors Peter Nowlen and Deborah Pittman were looking for new ways to conduct their Freshman Seminar course, a General Education requirement, Pittman suggested the music majors create a performance from the book.

“It’s very exciting,” Pittman says. “The students are really taking charge and running with it.”

Like the book, the “opera” will be divided into four parts, beginning with a prologue. The class has been divided into four groups, each working on one of the parts – as writers, lyricists, even multi-media directors who will create visuals for the performance.

Nowlen says while the production is more of a musical in form, they decided to label it an “opera” because of its serious subject matter.

He also emphasizes that the project does more than just create an opera, it covers a lot of criteria. The music majors are exposed to the creative side of their art, something that usually doesn’t happen until later in their studies.

“And it provokes a really deep and thoughtful study of the book, which really is what the class is about,” Nowlen says.

“I thought the book was great,” says freshman Vong Thao, who is working on the prologue with Taj Costa.

“Because the book was written more in the form of a novel is isn’t too hard to transpose it into a musical,” Costa says.

Sheree Meyer, associate dean for Undergraduate Studies and One Book Program coordinator says the class project illustrates how the One Book encourages interdisciplinary thought and sparks passionate discussion in a variety of contexts. “The Devil’s Highway has provided these students with an opportunity to express themselves creatively in response to its powerful story,” she says.

The performance is free. For more information, call (916) 278-5155. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.