Music faculty member William Menefield premieres opera in Cincinnati

Menefield is an assistant professor for jazz studies in the School of Music. He is behind the music of Fierce, an opera that debuted this summer in Cincinnati.
Thursday, August 11, 2022

It’s been an exciting summer for UI School of Music faculty member William Menefield — he composed the high-energy score for the opera Fierce and premiered it July 6 at the Cincinnati Opera.  

Several CLAS leaders traveled to Cincinnati to show their support for Menefield and enjoy the new show, including Associate Dean for the Arts and Humanities Roland Racevskis. 

Racevskis provided this reflection about the storyline and impact of the music.  

Fierce, from the Latin ferus, meaning “given to fighting or killing,” “furiously active or determined”, a word with both positive and negative connotations, serves as a rallying cry and as the title of a new opera by composer William Menefield and librettist Sheila Williams.  

During the week of its world premiere, from July 6-10, 2022, at the Corbett Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio, audiences got to experience a multifaceted work of art foregrounding the struggles of four young women thinking about how a pugnacious approach to the challenges facing them can guide them into a new phase of life.  

With a 12-piece pit orchestra that sounded three times its size, the production backed up the moving and powerful vocal performances—ranging from aria to rap—with a musical fusion of jazz, funk, gospel, classical, and modern musical influences. The visual dimension of the work was equally stunning, as a multifaceted series of projections set the scene for the themes advanced by this story told in song. 

The four protagonists, who meet in a workshop on preparing college entrance essays, end up bonding in their mutual struggle to resist everything from the toxic superficiality of smartphone communication to the oppression of unrealistic societal expectations. Somewhat unexpectedly, a totem animal, the otter, comes to embody much of what our heroines seek. Willing to struggle vigorously to survive, this creature also manages to remain amphibious, adaptable, playful, and secure in its ecological positioning. By analogy, and by means of a spectacular interweaving of creative forces in Menefield and Williams’s tour de force, the generations seeking to find their place in the world of today can take inspiration in the power of art and nature to remind us of the urgency of self-affirmation within the communities that shape and sustain us.  

— Roland Racevskis 

You can learn more about the show and view a beautiful gallery of performance images by visiting the Cincinnati Opera website.  

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa is a comprehensive college offering 73 majors in the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. More than 17,000 undergraduate and 1,900 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by professors at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all UI undergraduates through the General Education Program, and confers about 70 percent of the UI's bachelor's degrees each academic year.