“Jenny Lind Presents P.T. Barnum” is the most recent work by Shelley Cooper, assistant professor of theatre arts at Augustana, who is becoming well known for the one-woman operas she writes and performs.
Cooper’s opera was made possible by Augustana in the form of a grant, a few friends and some serious talent.
Told from the point of view of 19th-century Swedish soprano Jenny Lind as she toured the United States under P.T. Barnum’s direction, the opera offers a counterpoint to Barnum’s legacy as “The Greatest Showman” and uncovers his questionable moral compass.
The opera was met with glowing reviews after its February performance in Los Angeles. Next is a performance at the Swedish American Museum in Chicago on April 29. The campus community will have a chance to see the show during Celebration of Learning on May 10.
Cooper credits many people at Augustana with bringing her opera to fruition — from keeping the script true to history, to designing her “gorgeous” costume, to getting the words off paper and into song.
Opera director Dr. Michelle Crouch, adjunct assistant professor, took the script from the page to the stage. Keeping everything authentic to who Jenny Lind was, “Dr. Michelle Crouch helped me showcase Jenny as a brilliant concert singer and a strong presence in vocational calling,” said Cooper.
Cooper also credits Dr. Mark Safstrom, associate professor of Scandinavian studies, as “instrumental in not only making this production happen, but making it authentic, which is really important to me.” With Safstrom’s help, Cooper’s script became an honest reflection of Jenny Lind’s Swedish heritage and strong faith.
Oh, and that stunning dress? It was designed and built by Augustana alumna Megan Hoppe ’21. As a first-year student, Hoppe started out sewing snaps and buttons onto costumes in the theatre department’s costume shop.
By the time she graduated, Hoppe had grown her skills to design and build full costumes. Today she is pursuing her master's in information and library science at Dominican University and doing some freelance costuming at theatres around the Chicago area.
“Jenny Lind Presents P.T. Barnum” was made possible by the Wallenberg Foundation Grant for Scandinavian Studies at Augustana College.