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Human Energy: The Ellis Island Vignettes

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
March 28, 2007

During the years between 1892 and 1954, more than 12 million people--each with a story--came to America through Ellis Island, a three acre island off the coast of Manhattan.

The essence of those stories is captured in “Vignettes: Ellis Island” a production being presented by the UNH Opera program from April 13 through the 15 at the Johnson Theatre.

Directed by associate professor David Ripley, the opera is a beautiful musical setting for the oral histories of immigrants who arrived on that island in New York Harbor in search of a new life. The piece was written by Alan Louis Smith of the University of Southern California.

Ripley focuses on the “energy of the human spirit; of the heart, the mind and the soul…the energy of personal decisiveness and perseverance, of political upheaval, social unrest and of great social achievement.” The 30 short oral histories tell the stories of men, women and children who left behind their homes and their families to sail for the promise of America.

In 1999, Smith was approached by the director of Ellis Island Oral History Project to

undertake this endeavor. Based at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, the project is the oldest and largest of its kind—with about 2,000 interviews--dedicated to preserving the histories of immigrants who came through Ellis Island.

Smith’s music poignantly sets these brief, highly personal testimonies of this vitally important part of in American heritage and serves as an important reminder of the grand historical sweep and significance of the country’s immigrant history

Originally conceived for solo voice and piano, Ripley received permission from the composer to stage the work and have it orchestrated. The orchestration is realized by UNH faculty composer and professor Michael Annicchiarico. Gay Nardone is the choreographer. Ripley and a cast of 22 singers have been involved with the staging.

“Today, all of us are very aware of the current conflicts surrounding the issue of immigration, especially illegal immigration,” Ripley said. “All of us are, at the same time, aware of how deeply rooted our nation's history is in the tremendous benefits that the energy and talents of immigrants - from all over the globe and of every possible skill and expertise - have brought to our shores. Their accomplishments have benefited our country and the world.”

The production comes out of this year’s University Dialogue theme “Power to the People: A University Dialogue on Energy,” which attempts to explore energy from multiple vantage points.

Presented Friday and Saturday, April 13 and 14 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 15, at 3 p.m. Free and open to the public.

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