This article is posted with the permission of the author and Oberlin Conservatory
by Jarrett Hoffman
You know the song from Rent that asks how to measure a year of life? Well, steering clear of doing the math for “525,600 minutes” times 26, how do you measure a career lasting over a quarter-century?
After joining the faculty of Oberlin Conservatory in 1997 and heading up the opera program for 26 years—in addition to directing productions with leading professional organizations nationally and internationally, and serving for six years as artistic director of Lyric Opera Cleveland—Jonathon Field will retire at the end of the academic year.
That leaves time for one more show: Field will direct Oberlin Opera Theater in four performances of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide from Thursday, March 9, through Sunday, March 12, at Hall Auditorium. The English-language operetta, based on the novella by Voltaire, will be performed with supertitles, and Raphael Jiménez will lead the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra.
It marks the end of an era, no doubt—and of course, there are numerous ways to reflect on it.
How about the most memorable productions of Field’s tenure? Like the opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom, by Oberlin alumna Nkeiru Okoye ’92, which Field led on a tour of churches across Northeast Ohio? Or delivering Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas to the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires? Or what about Field’s signature moments stylistically—hilarious and wonderfully bizarre touches that hook into your memory and don’t let go, like the curious collection of rabbit characters he introduced in Mozart’s La finta giardiniera?
During a recent conversation, Field touched on his early years on the job, what makes him most proud as a director and teacher, those signature moments from productions past, the choice of Candide to finish out his career, and how horses figure prominently in the next chapter of his career.
Twenty-six years. What comes to mind when you think back to your early days at Oberlin?
First of all, when I got here, all the operas were performed in English, so my big change was to get them performed in the original language. The first production I did was Carmen, which is in French. The next year we did Romeo and Juliet, also in French. And we did Così fan tutte in Italian.
What was it like for the students to make that change?
It was initially challenging. They had certainly done scenes in the original language for our Opera Scenes program, but the level of memorization required for full-length roles really upped their game. Those first years, we got Rhiannon Giddens ’00, Limmie Pulliam ’98—a lot of first-rate students who, I think because of that challenge, really saw what they could accomplish onstage.
Published on ClevelandClassical.com March 4, 2023.