How this Minn. farm community rallied to save its only day-care center

How this Minn. farm community rallied to save its only day-care center


Lindsey Buegler learned that the only day-care center in her town of Warren, Minn., would be closing. She went to work that afternoon, upset and terrified.

“I had no idea what I was going to do for my two daughters,” she said, recalling that emotional day in 2015.

She went to her boss, Phil Thompson, who owns the accounting and crop insurance firm where she worked, and told him: “We have no family here to help. If there is no child care, we’ll have to move.”

Thompson said the moment hit hard as he realized Buegler and others were in a precarious situation. He decided to pitch in about $20,000 with a local banker to keep the Little Sprouts Learning Center open in the rural town, which has a population of about 1,600.

That worked for a while, but Thompson said he knew it wouldn’t be enough to sustain the day-care center, which was operating as a nonprofit.

“It got to the point where the committee running it could no longer pay the bills,” he said. “We jumped in to keep it afloat through donations and fundraisers, and that continued for several years. But it wasn’t a solid, long-term solution.”

Teen couldn’t find shoes for his size 23 feet. Strangers gave him money for a custom pair.

Thompson said he has written other large checks to help keep Little Sprouts running since that first crisis in 2015. He now employs about 30 people at his firm, and doesn’t mind when employees bring their children to work in a pinch when they need it.

“I’ve seen firsthand how this affects people,” said Thompson, who is also chairman of the Warren Economic Development Authority. “If people have to move away to work and raise their families, our town can’t grow.”

In 2019, Thompson helped put together a committee that spent several years taking an in-depth look at Warren’s day-care dilemma.

They explored several options to financially assist the day-care center, which was licensed for 47 infants and children and seven teachers. None of those options worked long-term.

Last year, he and the committee proposed an idea:

The city would ask residents to vote on a 20-year sales tax increase of half-a-cent to fund a $1.6 million low-interest loan for a new child care center, while keeping the old one open as it was being built. By doubling the number of teachers and increasing the availability of open slots, the day-care facility could survive.

The plan was that Warren City would own the building and lease it to Little Sprouts, and the day-care center could continue to operate as a nonprofit.

On Nov. 8, 2022, the measure narrowly passed. Thompson said he hopes Warren can be a possible example for how other small towns might solve day-care accessibility and affordability, adding that a handful of other rural communities have tried similar approaches.

The majority of day-care centers in the United States are privately funded or function as nonprofits, but there are a few exceptions.

Fairfield, Iowa, for example, recently used a combination of private donations and state and local funding to build a new child care center that opened this month.

A high school basketball team had no band. A rival school stepped in.

The new Little Sprouts center is scheduled to open in Warren in late November, and the center will be licensed for 20 teachers and care providers and about 100 infants, toddlers and preschoolers — more than double its current capacity, Thompson said. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for next month.

“We’re an agricultural community centered around corn, soybeans and sugar beets, and we have a lot of young people,” he said. “Now there’s an incentive to keep them here.”

Nationwide, about 51 percent of the population live in child care “deserts” with no child care providers or not enough licensed child care slots, according to a 2018 study by the Center for American Progress. The pandemic made the situation more dire.

92-year-old has grown tomatoes from the same seed lineage since 1965

Thompson and other residents of his farming community were determined to offer a day-care center option for working parents.

“We became completely centered on solving this problem,” said Mara Hanel, Warren’s mayor from 2018 to 2022. “At one time, we had a shortage of 180 child care slots in a 20-mile radius. We knew that we had to do something.”

Shannon Mortenson, Warren’s city administrator, said the town decided that child care should become an essential service like water, electricity and sanitation.

“We knew that if we lost Little Sprouts, we would also lose revenue and some of our workforce,” she said. “If parents had no options, they would move their families elsewhere.”

The idea of moving to be near child care created stress in the community, said Adam Sparby, whose two daughters and son attend Little Sprouts.

“Everyone was really worried — closing the day-care would mean a lot of us would have to move to another town and commute back and forth to work,” said Sparby, who sells John Deere farm machinery in Warren.

He said that his wife, Ashley, a pharmacist, would often volunteer at Little Sprouts on her lunch hour to help the teachers when the center was short on staff.

“Day-care is such a huge thing for families, so I’m really excited that the tax increase passed and we’ll soon have a new facility,” Sparby said. “It’s a great moment for our town.”

Thompson said the sales tax increase will raise enough funds over 20 years for the town to pay off a $1.6 million loan for the new center but the community still needed to raise another $700,000 to $800,000 to offset price increases that occurred during the pandemic.

“We should meet our goal soon,” he said, noting that businesses and residents have contributed about $600,000 to the effort. “Our community might be small, but people have been incredibly supportive and generous.”

Kelly Pahlen, president of the Little Sprouts board of directors and the mother of two young daughters who have spent time in day-care, said she’s not surprised.

“People have really rallied to make this happen for our town,” she said. “Working parents had started thinking, ‘If this town can’t provide us with child care, can we continue to live here? Will we have to move?’ Now we don’t have to.”

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Lakers hold on to defeat Thunder, reach .500 mark for first time this season

Lakers hold on to defeat Thunder, reach .500 mark for first time this season

It wasn’t the big late-season game the Lakers would’ve expected once the schedule was announced last summer, but here it was anyway Friday in Los Angeles.

The Lakers, desperately trying to get to .500 for the first time all season and pick up valuable ground in the Western Conference playoff race, had another chance to build momentum.

The Oklahoma City Thunder stood in their way, one of the youngest teams in the NBA, playing with relentless effort and tons of confidence.

It was a huge game — one of the biggest of the Lakers’ season — and after 48 minutes, it was also a well-earned 116-111 Lakers win.

Anthony Davis finished with 37 points and 15 rebounds and Dennis Schroder scored 21 in the win.

“Kudos to our guys, just staying the course, continuously being competitive,” Darvin Ham said.

The Lakers blitzed the Thunder early, bolting to a 17-point lead led by Davis’ dominance and lightning-quick ball movement. They made six of their first 13 threes, teasing a blowout.

But after that hot start, the Lakers cooled. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the fastest-improving stars in the NBA, and Josh Giddey kept attacking the Lakers’ interior while the Oklahoma City shooters confidently hit open threes.

The Thunder scored 41 points in the second quarter and held the Lakers to 19 in the third, using runs at the end of each to tighten the gap. They finally tied the score for the first time since the first quarter midway through the fourth when Gilgeous-Alexander’s slicing jumper made it 102-102.

The Lakers, though, scrapped to the finish, Davis and Schroder making huge plays down the stretch on both ends, fighting their way to just enough stops.

The Lakers are now tied for seventh in the West with Minnesota. It also gave them the season head-to-head tiebreaker with Oklahoma City.

The last time the Lakers were .500 was Jan. 25, 2022.

The Lakers' LeBron James, left, and Anthony Davis chat as they sit on the bench during the first half March 24, 2023.

The Lakers’ LeBron James, left, and Anthony Davis chat as they sit on the bench during the first half. James is out because of a right foot injury.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

It all came with them, once again, shorthanded, and forced to employ their next-man-up mentality.

With D’Angelo Russell (again) the latest Laker to land on the injury report, an opportunity for seldom-used Lonnie Walker IV presented itself.

So when the ball popped to Walker in front of the Lakers’ bench where he’s spent each of the last three games, he didn’t hesitate.


The hope, Ham said pregame, is that Russell’s sore right hip is a day-to-day injury.

“It’s not too serious,” Ham said, “but serious enough where we need to manage it.”

With backcourt minutes suddenly available, Ham turned to Walker and the former starter responded with 15 points in 11 first-half minutes.

He finished with 20.

“He didn’t have to come out and worry about getting ready,” Ham said after the win. “He’s been staying ready.”

Walker started in each of his first 32 games this season before a knee injury sidelined him for a month. He slowly lost minutes in the Lakers’ rotation as Austin Reaves took on a bigger role and after the team added Russell and Malik Beasley at the trade deadline.

Lakers guard Malik Beasley shoots over Thunder forward Lindy Waters III during the first half.

Lakers guard Malik Beasley, who scored 10 points, shoots over Thunder forward Lindy Waters III during the first half.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

His first half Friday against Oklahoma City was the most he scored in a game this month. Ham stuck with Walker in crunch time, where he made another huge three and grabbed a game-sealing rebound.

Russell’s injury happened in the Lakers’ win against Phoenix on Wednesday, a game in which he scored 26 and energized the crowd.

“It’s unfortunate, no doubt, but it’s professional sports and it’s a reality of our business here in the NBA. So you have to just manage it as best you can in terms of rearranging your rotation, but we have capable guys,“ Ham said.

At the front of that line has been Reaves, the hottest player in the locker room save for Davis. Over his last nine games before Friday, Reaves averaged 19.8 points and 6.1 assists on 57.3% shooting from the field. Wednesday, Ham moved him into the starting lineup for Beasley.

“He’s clearly a huge focal point for them, which makes him a huge focal point for us,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said pregame.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis shoots as Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins defends during the first half.

Lakers forward Anthony Davis shoots as Thunder guard Aaron Wiggins defends during the first half.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

That meant the Thunder used Luguentz Dort as a primary defender on Reaves for long stretches. Dort, a 6-foot-4 guard with strength, locked up Kawhi Leonard and kept him from attempting a game-winner in the Thunder’s victory over the Clippers on Tuesday night.

Reaves struggled to score efficiently Friday, a hallmark of his offensive game, early on, a trend that began when he had to side-step to force up a contested three with Dort covering him to beat the shot clock on the Lakers’ second possession of the game.

“I mean Austin is a kid who is highly intelligent, and just goes about his business,” Ham said. “He’s not gonna force — he’s gonna be aggressive — but he’s not gonna force himself into a bad play.”

Still, Ham didn’t deny that Reaves was going to see different looks from the opposition.

“He’s gonna be a priority, no doubt about it,” Ham said. “But it all comes down to just playing the right way, and like we saw with [Anthony Davis] a couple nights ago, teams just doubling him on the pass, and doubling him on the dribble, doubling him from the top and on the baseline. He just continuously made the right play, he didn’t try to force the issue.

“And that’s all you have to do.”

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LAUSD and union workers who led massive strike reach tentative settlement

LAUSD and union workers who led massive strike reach tentative settlement

A tentative agreement has been reached to end the protracted contract dispute that shut down Los Angeles public schools for three days, with the lowest-wage workers winning a raise of 30% or more, officials announced Friday afternoon.

The tentative pact, reached after mediation with Mayor Karen Bass, could, if approved by union members, prevent campuses from being closed again to 420,000 students and spare low-wage workers from job actions that would have been difficult to bear.

Local 99 of Service Employees International Union — which represents about 30,000 workers and includes bus drivers, teacher aides, special education assistants, custodians and food service workers — led the strike that began Tuesday and ended Thursday.

Also on strike in solidarity were members of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents about 35,000 teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses and librarians.

But the end of the strike — which had a fixed duration — was not the end of the contract dispute, and hanging over negotiations was the possibility of future job actions.

Even before the settlement, Local 99 had claimed success in bringing the plight of some of the school district’s lowest-paid workers to broad public attention locally and nationally.

The strike not only shuttered campuses, which reopened Friday, but roiled family schedules as parents scrambled to find day care and secure meals normally provided at school. Across the school system, parents expressed strong support for the efforts of low-wage workers to improve their lives, but some criticized the job action that closed schools as causing unnecessary harm to children already struggling to recover from the campus closures of the pandemic.

On Thursday, at the muddy grounds of Los Angeles State Historic Park, a sea of union members clad in red and purple celebrated the end of their strike as they banged drums and buckets and sounded noisemakers amid blaring music.

“When we fight we win!” they chanted, along with teachers and family members who joined them in support.

UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz fired up the rally, telling them they had “put LAUSD on notice” that every worker deserved dignity and a living wage.

“You braved some hail and you braved the hellish rains and we took the fight to every corner of this Los Angeles,” she called out. “Our unity has shifted the power dynamic in LAUSD. We have changed the narrative and now everybody knows who runs L.A.!”

Throughout the rally, participants bashed district leadership, especially Supt. Alberto Carvalho, but a deal was already getting close — so close that Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias skipped the penultimate gathering, where he would have been a featured speaker.

An important breakthrough was the intervention of Bass, who stepped in Wednesday to mediate — an intense effort that began on Wednesday.

Early word of Bass’ involvement came Wednesday, posted on social media, by Los Angeles school officials. This announcement and subsequent comments from those on both sides were intentionally spare on details.

However, it appeared unlikely that anything would have prevented the three-day walkout from going forward as planned, starting on Tuesday.

On the day before the strike, union negotiators and district negotiators were never in the same building, let alone the same room, Carvalho said Monday.

A man in a crowd of people raises a fist.

Protesters picket in front of LAUSD headquarters in Los Angeles on Tuesday during the first day of a three-day strike, calling for better wages and working conditions for some of Los Angeles public schools’ lowest-paid employees: bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and others.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The strike rationale

The union had defined the walkout as a three-day protest of unfair labor practices, which typically involve allegations that an employer has interfered in legally protected, union-related activity.

Blanca Gallegos, the union spokesperson, said violations included illegal messaging from district officials, such as alleged threats of termination or retaliation against workers for voting to support a walkout or participating in one. The union also alleged that the district changed job classifications “for no reason” and gave “poor job performances” to bargaining team members because they were negotiating.

A crowd of protesters, many wearing red and purple. A picket sign says "On Strike For Our Students."

LAUSD employees and supporters picket in front of the LAUSD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday afternoon.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

District officials denied wrongdoing. An approved agreement is likely to end most of these cases, although additional review may be needed where employees allege harm to their employment status.

L.A. Unified also is likely to pursue a claim that the two unions staged an illegal strike.

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‘SHOUT SISTER SHOUT!’ at Ford’s Theatre is triumphant

‘SHOUT SISTER SHOUT!’ at Ford’s Theatre is triumphant

Ford’s Theatre’s SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! is a triumphant telling of the life of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, regarded as “one of America’s most influential rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, and gospel crossover singers and guitarists.” Director Kenneth L. Roberson’s masterful execution of playwright Cheryl L. West’s book figuratively takes the audience to church.

Tharpe played an important role in the advent of popular music from its roots in folk and gospel to what is now known as rock ‘n’ roll. Despite the fact that few people are familiar with her name today, Tharpe became a musical legend who revolutionized music in the 1930s and ’40s. She also helped lead the women’s movement for sexual and racial equality. West drew inspiration from the biography The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe by Gayle F. Wald.

Carrie Compere as Sister Rosetta Tharpe with (background) Jamal Antony in ‘SHOUT SISTER SHOUT!’ Photo by André Chung.

“Her style has impacted what’s known as rock ‘n’ roll, crossover, gospel, and secular music, and the blend or fusion between the styles that had not been done before in this manner,” said the show’s star, Carrie Compere, in a recent DC Theater Arts interview.

Compere’s Rosetta Tharpe (aka Rosie) was vulnerable off-stage and confident on stage. Examples of this were her subservience to her husband, Reverend Tharpe (the spot-on Sinclair Mitchell), and her traveling preacher mother Katie Bell (the marvelous Carol Dennis).

Compere’s silky voice lifted such numbers as “Can’t Sit Down,” “Rock Me,” and the gospel-infused “On My Way.” The latter had the audience clapping in time with the churchy beat.

Dennis, in her Ford’s Theatre debut, brought gravitas and angst to her role as Rosetta’s disapproving mother, Katie. Dennis’ rendition of “Lonesome Road” was fire. Katie did not like Rosetta playing secular music. “One of the questions our show asks is: Can familial love override a great divide in values?” said West.

Felicia Boswell played Rosetta’s love interest and fellow singer Marie Knight. She was dynamite in her duo with Rosetta, “Didn’t It Rain?”

Throughout this musical’s narrative, Tharpe encountered such Black, historical, and musical luminaries as Cab Calloway (Joseph Anthony Byrd), Mahalia Jackson (Kelli Blackwell), Dizzy Gillespie (Keenan McCarter), Little Richard (Jamal Antony Shuriah), and the Nicholas Brothers (Shuriah and Jarran Muse).

Byrd’s Calloway practically flew about the stage like a white-tuxedoed eagle as jazzy music lifted his virtual wings. Shuriah and Muse displayed jazzy hoofing. Choreographer William Carlos Angulo created eye-catching moves for the players. Dance Captain Jessica Bennett no doubt made contributions here.

Left: Carol Dennis as evangelist Katie Bell Nubin; right: Kelli Blackwell as Mahalia Jackson and Carrie Compere as Sister Rosetta Tharpe in ‘SHOUT SISTER SHOUT!’ Photos by André Chung.

Mahalia Jackson (i.e., the character) belted out an unforgettable solo in “Going to Live the Life I Sing About.” Kelli Blackwell was impactful in her limited role.

Keenan McCarter was fantastic as Rosie’s friend Dizzy Gillespie. I loved his playful rapport with Compere.

I liked Joe Mallon as Rosie’s manager, Richie. “There’s no one like her [Rosetta],” Richie pointed out.

Conductor Victor Simonson flawlessly led his musicians through the gospel-tinged tunes. Every note landed with masterful precision. Simonson’s expertise as a conductor was evident throughout the show. Music Director Sheilah V. Walker and Orchestrator and Arranger Joseph Joubert contributed here as well.

Carrie Compere as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the cast of ‘SHOUT SISTER SHOUT!” Photo by André Chung.

The Scenic Design added to the show’s religious effect. As scenic designer, Tim Mackabee wrote: “The shell of the space is meant to evoke a church. We stylized the components of an old church to make it the emotional space of the show.”

Costume design, lighting design, and sound design, by Alejo Vietti, Alan C. Edwards, and Sun Hee Kil respectively, were good, but not memorable. Those three elements took a back seat to the music, dancing, and acting.

SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! is a touching biographical tribute to a lesser-known musical pioneer. Though you may not learn many details about Rosetta Tharpe’s life, you’ll definitely love the soul within the music.

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including a 15-minute intermission.

SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! plays through May 13, 2023 (Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m.), at Ford’s Theatre, 514 10th Street NW, Washington, DC. Tickets are on sale online and range from $36 to $90. Discounts are available for groups, senior citizens, military personnel, and those younger than age 40. For more information, call (202) 347-4833 or (888) 616-0270 (toll-free).

The production is recommended for ages 12 and older.

COVID Safety: Face masks are strongly encouraged during all mainstage performances for patrons. Ford’s complete COVID-10 Health and Safety plan is here.

Accessibility: Ford’s Theatre is accessible to persons with disabilities, offering wheelchair-accessible seating and restrooms, assisted listening devices, and Braille and large print playbills. Accessible seating is available in both the rear orchestra and balcony sections. More information at

GalaPro Captioning Services: Beginning March 27, 2023, all performances of SHOUT SISTER SHOUT! will be captioned via the GalaPro Free Closed Captioning Mobile App. GalaPro is available from the App Store or Google Play and allows patrons to access captioning on demand through their phone or tablet device. Patrons can set their phones to airplane mode and connect to the local GalaPro WiFi network before the performance begins. More information at

She talked with that guitar!’: Carrie Compere on playing Rosetta Tharpe in ‘SHOUT SISTER SHOUT!’ (interview by Debbie Minter Jackson, March 10, 2023)

Book by Cheryl L. West
Based on the biography entitled Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe by Gayle F. Wald

Rosetta Tharpe: Carrie Compere
Richie/Tiny/Ensemble: Joe Mallon
Katie Bell: Carol Dennis
Marie Knight/Ensemble: Felicia Boswell
Reverend Tharpe/Ensemble: Sinclair Mitchell
Leeannie/Showgirl/Ensemble: Nia Savoy-Dock
Neckbone/Lucky Millinder/Ensemble: David Rowen
Cab Calloway/Ensemble: Joseph Anthony Byrd
Nicholas Brother/Little Richard/Ensemble: Jamal Antony Shuriah
Nicholas Brother/Russell Morrison/Ensemble: Jarran Muse
Showgirl/Usher Nurse/Ensemble: Raquel Jennings
Showgirl/Ensemble: Jalisa Williams
Dizzy Gillespie/Ensemble: Keenan McCarter
Mahalia Jackson: Kelli Blackwell
Swing/Dance Captain: Jessica Bennett
Swing/Fight and Intimacy Captain: Jay Frisby
Swings: Troy Hopper, Jessica Bennett, Jay Frisby, Michael Wood

Production Supervisor: Sheldon Epps
Director: Kenneth L. Roberson
Choreographer: William Carlos Angulo
Music Director: Sheilah V. Walker
Orchestrator and Arranger: Joseph Joubert
Scenic Design: Tim Mackabee
Costume Design: Alejo Vietti
Lighting Design: Alan C. Edwards
Sound Design: Sun Hee Kil
Hair and Make-Up Design: Charles G. LaPointe
Associate Director and Dramaturg: Tyler Rhodes
Associate Choreographer: Emily Madigan
Associate Music Director: Victor Simonson
Fight and Intimacy Consultants: Jenny Male and Sierra Young

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski accident trial has begun. Here’s what to know.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski accident trial has begun. Here’s what to know.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow testified in a Utah courtroom this week for a civil trial after a retired optometrist accused her of crashing into him while skiing on a bunny hill at an upscale Park City resort.

Terry Sanderson brought the lawsuit against the Goop CEO, claiming she recklessly crashed into him and then skied away despite his injuries. He said the accident left him with broken ribs and permanent brain damage.

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An effervescent ‘Serse’ surprises and delights at Catholic University

An effervescent ‘Serse’ surprises and delights at Catholic University

Serse is the Italian interpretation of the name Xerxes, the king of Persia 486–465 BCE. The strongest image I have about the king of Persia is the “Babylonian” sequence in D. W. Griffith’s 1916 silent film Intolerance in which reverent and lavishly costumed celebrants dance stiffly down the steps of the most massive set that had been built for a movie up until that time.

The 1738 opera Serse by George Frideric Handel is an ancient, reliable comedy plot in which pairs of siblings are frustrated in love both by their own foolishness and by forces outside of their control. The story doesn’t have anything to do with the historical king of Persia. Thankfully, in the production I saw at Catholic University, Stage Director James Hampton has enthusiastically embraced that theatrical truth and updated the already loosely conceived story of Serse and moved it to the United States of America — Las Vegas, in fact — in our present era of wealth inequality, greed, and power-wielding. The result is a glittering, effervescent, and hilarious concoction that is surprising and delightful at every turn.

Ziwei Lin (as Amastre disguised as Elvis) and Sophia Spencer (in background, as Local Wedding Planner) in ‘Serse.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

The central characters are Romilda and Arsamene. Their romance is the central one that others in the play are trying to disrupt. The next pair are Serse and Amastre. These two are engaged, but Serse’s affections are wavering and Amastre, in partnership with a local wedding planner, is spying on him in order to uncover and eliminate the obstacles to their romance. The third pair are Elviro and Atalanta. These two are related to each other only through their associations with the other characters. Romilda and Atalanta are sisters. Arsamene and Serse are brothers. Elviro and Arsamene are buddies. Serse wants to marry Romilda. Atalanta wants to marry Serse. And Elvis makes an appearance. Or two. I got a little (pleasantly) confused at this point. When the curtain rises, we see a luxurious hotel entrance/bar, that’s like a combination of the 1930s Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire musicals and Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel. The set design is by Brigid K. Burge. In the upstage area are elegant crosshatch windows and doors that simultaneously reveal and hide characters as they approach the center of the action.

At the center of this set is a tree. For those who know this opera, this is the “plane tree” to which the title character Serse sings the first aria. But the leaves look more like the fruit of one of the enterprises that have brought Serse his wealth. (Having perpetrated one spoiler, I will do my best not to give up anymore.) I remember thinking, “Oh, this is where that song ‘Ombra Mai Fu’ comes from!” The song is part of everybody’s classical music 101 course. Here it is given an ironic and motivic context that enlivens its interest and relieves the audience from having to be reverent about a song to a tree that has hard-to-trace Socratic references.

Some of the staging, with characters popping up from behind furniture and hiding behind the frames of windows and doorways, emphasized the visual connection to Grand Budapest Hotel.

The primary function of these productions is to offer opportunities for students to explore the canon they will be expected to know as they pursue their careers and to display and hone the skills that have been working on. While the performers displayed differing levels of operatic skill at this point in their training, all of the performers were committed to their characters. That is a tribute not only to the performers’ skills but also to the director’s skill in making everybody comfortable enough to courageously do work in such an exposed arena. And because of this effort, the audience was deeply engaged in what the performers were doing.

Ethan Nott (as Arsamene) and Jiayong Mei (Serse) in ‘Serse.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

Some of the performers that stood out to me from the Thursday/Saturday cast include Lin Gong as Romilda and Catholic University faculty member Gustavo Ahualli as her father, Ariodate. Both were impressive, as they combined solid dramaturgical characterization and vocal facility seamlessly. Yixuan Wang gave an enjoyable and convincing performance as the sassy and meddlesome Atalanta.

In a way, this show is a series of arias, one after the other. Imagine a concert being given for the benefit of a well-deserving charity (or, Sondheim-ishly, “on their own behalf”) in which the featured performers were Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand, and Maria Callas: all of it held together by a very light comedic plot. That’s the spirit of this show. The staging made use of the music to move those characters on and off the stage after their arias in an almost hypnotic way. There was no awkwardness here. Though

Isabel O’Hagan (as Romilda) in ‘Serse.’ Photo by Ryan Maxwell Photography.

sometimes it was a little hard to know when to applaud: the show is set up to allow us to applaud after every solo. At one time operas had “claques” — groups of people hired to applaud at performances. And I could see where — as part of this university’s portfolio — both students and audience were being educated about the form of a work that was probably written to allow for the practice of such claques and just how that practice might look and feel appropriate.

The costumes by Glenn A. Breed had that air of extravagant and entitled conspicuous consumption that referred back to the lush work of early 20th-century costume designer Erté. The dresses and gloves were drenched with jewels.

Part of the effervescence of this production must be attributable to Simeone Tartaglione’s music direction, which led the performers to render Handel’s runs, trills, and relentlessly major-key compositions with joyful articulation and execution that was sensitive to the dramatic as well as the musical requirements of the piece.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes plus a 15-minute intermission.

Serse plays March 23 to 26, 2023, produced by The Catholic University of America Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Drama, and Art performing at Hartke Theatre, 3801 Harewood Road NE, Washington, DC. Tickets ($10–$20) are available at the box office 202-319-4000 or online.

COVID Safety: The Hartke Theater follows the university-wide guidelines of the Catholic University of America. Face Coverings: In accordance with revised guidance from the CDC and the District’s Department of Health, Catholic University no longer requires masking for most of the campus. The complete COVID guidelines can be found here.

Serse by George Frideric Handel

Stage Direction by James Hampton
Music Direction by Simeone Tartaglione
Assistant Conductor: Noel Nascimento
Assistant Conductor: Daniel Rodrigues Lima
Coach Accompanist: Nicholas Catravas
Principal Coach: Jo Ann Kulesza
Area Head: Sharon Christman
Costume Designer: Glenn A. Breed
Lighting Designer: Paul Callahan
Set Designer: Bridgid K. Burge

Serse: Samuel Thompson
Arsamene: Yihan Ye
Elviro: Daniel Campbell
Romilda: Lin Gong
Atalanta: Yixuan Wang
Amastre: Dierr Hu
Ariodate: Gustavo Ahualli
Serse’s Assistants: Katherine Blobner, Neely Shah
Local Wedding Planner: Sophia Spencer
Amastre Cover: Aixi Li
Romilda Cover: Katherine Mackenzie
Supernumerary 1 Serse: Neely Shah
Supernumerary 2 Serse: Katherine Blobner
Supernumerary 3 Amastre: Sophia Spencer
Serse: Jiayong Mei
Arsamene: Ethan Nott
Elviro:  Linsen Yang
Romilda: Isabel O’Hagan
Atalanta: Nora Spring
Amastre: Ziwei Lin
Ariodate: Joey Chee
Serse’s Assistants: Katherine Blobner, Neely Shah
Local Wedding Planner: Sophia Spencer
Amastre Cover: Aixi Li
Romilda Cover: Katherine Mackenzie
Supernumerary 1 Serse: Neely Shah
Supernumerary 2 Serse: Katherine Blobner
Supernumerary 3 Amastre: Sophia Spencer

Violin 1: Yun Kan co-CM, Carolina Pedroza co-CM, Leah Krieger, Audrey Clement, Hannah Gerdes. Violin 2: Yun Kang, Carolina Pedroza co-CM, Chelsea Loh, Shu-Tin Yao. Viola: Faith Foster, Rizwan. Cello: Chiara Pappalardo P, David Zelinsky. Flute: Sabatino Seirri P, Metthew Sie. Oboe: Daniel Bates P, Sash Jernakoff. Trumpet: James Alleva

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