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News Waulking in the Glen

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UD Composition Studio and Opera Workshop Collaborate on a New Opera
cast of Waulking in the glen

​Waulking in the Glen Cast, photo by John Palmer

The 2017-2018 American opera season saw world premiere works produced by companies across the country, from Keeril Makan’s Persona at the LA Opera, to Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up at the Washington National Opera, and three world-premiere productions by nearby Opera Philadelphia. “We are living in the golden age of American opera,” says Assistant Professor of Voice and Opera Isai Jess Muñoz.

In addition to works from the classic repertoire, the University of Delaware Opera Theatre (UDOT) regularly produces works by contemporary composers, including premiere productions through its Opera:Now series, and in 2018 UDOT’s Opera Workshop joined with UD’s Composition Studio, led by Professor Jennifer Barker, to produce a world premiere opera written and performed entirely by UD students.

Waulking in the Glen tells the stories of ten Scottish lassies who meet to ‘waulk’ cloth, the process of soaking and beating cloth to make it more felt-like, and the final step in creating Scottish tartan fabrics. When Dr. Barker and Dr. Muñoz began discussing the idea for a brand-new opera, they looked at various English texts – from Charles Dickens to Louisa May Alcott – before settling on works by 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

cast of waulking in the glen

​Waulking in the Glen Cast, photo by John Palmer

Music is a collaborative art, and creating this opera gave students the opportunity to collaborate in ways that mirror professional experiences they will encounter in their careers. After they selected texts, Dr. Muñoz auditioned voice students while Dr. Barker began working with composition students. In researching Burns' poetry, Dr. Barker had discovered that around 50 of his 500 poems could be read from a woman's perspective. She selected some of these and asked her students to consider possible characters they could pull from the texts. In this way, the opera is a cast of characters inspired by Burns' poetry and created by the composers.

Next, the recorded vocal auditions were sent to each composer, so from the very start they heard who they would be writing for. Each composer was matched with one singer to create an aria for their character, and the students met during the writing process to go through their pieces, and again during rehearsals leading up to the spring performances.

Writing for a specific person, not just an instrument or ensemble, was a new experience for many of the composers. Barker explains that this is a skill they need in their professional lives, as most commissions come with specific parameters for voices, instruments and subject matter. “It was a very good training process for the students,” she says. “This is the reality of accepting commissions, and it was much more specific and detailed than other work they’ve done.” Additionally, being involved in the entire process allowed the composition students to experience the many elements of a theatrical production – music, dance, staging and costumes.

cast of waulking in the glen

​Waulking in the Glen Cast, photo by John Palmer

Composer Christian Johnson (BM ’18) and soprano Nicole Boysen (MA, ’19) were one of the pairs, and Johnson agrees that working together enhanced the process. “As Nicole sang through her piece the first time, I could hear how it sat in her voice, what musical phrases worked the best and what her ‘money notes’ are.”

For Boysen, Waulking in the Glen is one of her favorite projects from UD. “It was such a joy to be part of the opportunity for people to come together and create art that is theirs.” Working with Johnson was part of how Boysen built her character in the opera. Morag, one of the older characters, has experienced a life of love and loss. “Remembering that emotion is such an important piece,” she says. “It informs your sound and helps you focus on what you need to do.” 

Dr. Muñoz offers another reason why bringing the singers into the process was so valuable: “Our students are entering the field when American opera is alive and well, and the means that they have to be able to engage with living composers.” The voice students learned how to thoughtfully, respectfully go into a collaborative setting with a composer.

Waulking in the Glen also adds to the undergraduate teaching and performing cannon in important ways. It can be challenging to find works for a young female ensemble, as opera voices don’t fully mature until well after the college years. Dr. Muñoz and Dr. Barker sought to create a female-centric work for undergraduate voice students that also provided a publishing opportunity for the composition students. Musically, Waulking in the Glen is very tonal and straight-forward and lightly orchestrated, making it ideal for undergraduate-level singers. “It meets the students where they are in their musicianship,” says Dr. Muñoz.
American Prize
cast of waulking in the glen

​Waulking in the Glen Cast, photo by John Palmer

Waulking in the Glen and its premiere production received recognition from the American Prize:

  • 2nd Place Winners for Composition in the Opera/Theatre/Film/Dance category, Student Division, for the World-Premiere Production of Waulking in the Glen, 2018-2019
  • Isai Jess Muñoz: National Finalist for the Charles Nelson Reilly Prize in Stage Directing, Opera Division, for the World-Premiere Production of Waulking in the Glen, 2018-2019
  •  UD Opera Workshop Ensemble- Isai Jess Muñoz, Director: National Semi-Finalist in Opera Performance, College/ University Division, for the World-Premiere Production of Waulking in the Glen, 2018-2019
Waulking in the Glen Synopsis

Set in the late 1790s on the mainland in Scotland, 'Waulking in the Glen' invites you to spend fifty minutes with ten lassies and ladies as they 'waulk' their cloth; all the while sharing their loves and losses, their dreams and passions, their hardships and joys.

The lassies and ladies meet on a regular basis to waulk: the final stage in the process of making tartan cloth. The process commences with the sheering of sheep, followed by the spinning of the sheep’s wool, the weaving of the spun wool, and then the waulking of the woven cloth. Waulking causes the woven cloth to thicken and soften. This final process in the creation of cloth is tedious, back-breaking work which can take up to a full day at a time. Therefore, the lassies and ladies sing ‘call and response’ waulking songs as they work. In this village the lassies and ladies meet in the local kirk, built by the laird of the castle for the villagers. The tartan not only clothes the villagers but also serves as a cottage industry, bringing in a small but extremely necessary income for the women.

The native tongue is Scots, with a few newcomers from the Western Isles speaking The Gaelic. Ladies with a husband wear a white scarf, instead of a wedding ring, in order to show their marital status. Music, poetry, story-telling and dance are central to their lives and the documentation of their people’s history, as witnessed in their ceilidhs. It is a sea-faring village as well as a farming village on the west coast. All of the farmers are tenants of the laird of the castle and therefore work his land while some of the women-folk work in the castle. Village men have been lost at sea both on fishing vessels and merchant ships. Some village men have had to leave the village in order to find work. Others are in hiding due to their refusal to pay taxes to, or their outlawed activity against, the landed gentry.

Lassies and Ladies:

Morag is from the Isle of Eigg in the Western Isles. She moved to the mainland after losing her fishermen husband and sons. The process of waulking was an island tradition. Therefore, Morag has taught this process to the village women in order to provide them with an industry.

Jean is the village midwife. She has dedicated her entire life to helping others.

Margaret was adopted in Malawi by Scottish medical missionaries and chose to return to Scotland with them. She now is a farmer’s wife and has grown children.

Ailsa was deserted by her husband.

Heather was fortunate enough to attend the University of Glasgow, and will be presenting her first public address in a few day’s time.

Peigi is a young mum-to-be, whose husband is away searching for work.

Shiona is a maid at the castle whose beau is away from the village.

Catriona is currently a maid at the castle, but dreams of being an opera singer.

Fiona is a young lassie, still living at home with her parents.

Eilidh is a young waif from another village, sent by her family to help Peigi through her pregnancy while her husband is away.

Music, Composers & Premiere Production Singers

The Teardrop composed by Amylia Hoos; sung by Hannah Scarborough

News, Lassies, News composed by Daniel Armistead; sung by Abigail Goslin with Hannah Scarborough and Emma Armstrong

The Wayfaring Hedgehog composed by Amylia Hoos; Dance

Rantin, Rovin Robin composed by Hannah Scarborough; sung by Lassies and Ladies

Blest Be Thy Bloom composed by Daniel Townsend; sung by Liana Stephen with the Lassies and Ladies

The Bonie Lad That’s Far Awa’ composed by Liana Stephen; sung by Maegan Miciotta

Rantin, Rovin Robin composed by Hannah Scarborough; sung by Lassies and Ladies

Address to the Toothache composed by Alex Jiheng Bi; sung by Emma Armstrong

Greed, Envy, Sorrow composed by Chris Leich; sung by Ella Perry

By Cruel Hands the Sapling Drops composed by Christian Johnson; sung by Nicole Boysen

There’ll Never Be Peace Till Jamie Comes Hame composed by Daniel Townsend; sung by Taritta Kansichi

Talk of Him That’s Far Awa composed by Jorge Iván Ramirez; sung by Camille Jacob with Maegan Miciotta and Hannah Scarborough

Rantin, Rovin Robin composed by Hannah Scarborough; sung by Lassies and Ladies

Mouth Music composed by Amylia Hoos; sung by Lassies and Ladies

Peas in the Sink composed by Amylia Hoos; Dance

The Rights of Women composed by Matthew Greene; sung by Katie Barnwell with Lassies and Ladies

Charlie, He’s My Darling composed by Nicolas Gomez-Colon; sung by Lassies and Ladies

Eightsome Reel Traditional arranged by Amylia Hoo; Dance

April 2018 Production Staff

Creative Team

Concept: Jennifer Margaret Barker

Poetry: Robert Burns

Libretto: Jennifer Margaret Barker

Music: University of Delaware Composers - Daniel Townsend, Jorge Iván Ramirez, Liana Stephen, Alex Jiheng Bi, Chris Leich, Daniel Armistead, Christian Johnson, Matthew Greene, Hannah Scarborough, Amylia Hoos, Nicolas Gomez-Colon

Set Designer: John A. Palmer

Dramaturg: Jennifer Margaret Barker

Premiere Production Cast and Orchestra


Morag - Nicole Boysen

Jean - Liana Stephen

Margaret - Taritta Kansichi

Ailsa - Ella Perry

Heather - Katie Barnwell

Peigi - Maegan Miciotta

Shiona - Camille Jacob

Catriona - Emma Armstrong

Fiona - Abigail Goslin

Eilidh - Hannah Scarborough

Male Cameos - Jorge Iván Ramirez, Daniel Townsend, Nicolas Gomez-Colon, Nicholas Calabrese


Andrea Shabazian, flute

Ziqian Ye, violin

Elias Gross, viola

Jonathan Terry, violoncello

Chris Leich, marimba and cajon

Alex Jiheng Bi, piano and percussion

Jorge Iván Ramirez, acoustic guitar and cajon

Daniel Armistead, penny whistle

Amylia Hoos, bodhran

Premiere Production Team Members

Music Director: Jennifer Margaret Barker

Stage Director: Isai Jess Munoz

Choreographer: Joann Browning

Set Designer: John A. Palmer

Set and Stage Building Assistant: Jorge Iván Ramirez

Costumer Designers: Jennifer Margaret Barker, Lauri Herman

Videographer: John A. Palmer

General Manager: Taritta Kansichi

News Story Supporting Images and Text
Used in the Home Page News Listing and for the News Rollup Page
2018 opera production is a collaboration between the UD Composition Studio and Opera Workshop.

​2018 opera production is a collaboration between the UD Composition Studio and Opera Workshop.

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Waulking in the Glen
  • School of Music
  • Amy E. du Pont Music Building
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-2578