Thoughts on Theses
Issue   |   Wed, 11/09/2011 - 03:08
Dana Kaufman '12

Dana Kaufman ’12
Major: Music
Advisor: Eric Sawyer

What is your thesis about?
I am writing a one-act opera for my senior thesis in Music based on Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman” [a short Russian story about a titular counselor in 1830s St. Petersburg who goes insane and chronicles his descent into madness in his diary]. The opera will be partly in Russian but mostly in English. There’s a cast of five people and an orchestra, and the performance will be on Jan. 28, 2012 at 8 p.m. in Buckley Recital Hall. If you want front-row seats, contact Dana Kaufman! Just kidding.

How did this idea come about?
I had always wanted to learn Russian. My family is Russian, but no living family member speaks it. Even in middle school, I tried to learn a little bit of Russian. When I was 13, I really wanted to have a pen pal from Ukraine. I began composing in high school. I wanted to combine my love of Slavic studies and my love of music to write a Russian opera. I’d always wanted to write this opera based on some kind of Russian literature, or have a Russian libretto, and I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to use, but I’ve also always been a huge fan of Gogol’s work. Before I went to Russia, I thought I had a full understanding of his works of literature, but when I was finally in Petersburg— where “Diary of a Madman” is set— I got to see where the Madman walked and to experience the environment these characters [had] lived in 200 years later. It gives you a whole different perspective on the stories that you can’t really get, staying in America. It kind of hit me after I got back that that’s what I really wanted to use. It’s hard to believe that it’s actually in the works now, but it’s just something I’ve been looking forward to. I’m hoping that something will happen in Buckley on Jan. 28, 2012.

What have been some of the high points so far?
I’m really fortunate to be working with an amazing cast. Two singers in the five-member cast are professionals: Tom O’Toole and Libby Maxey. The three others are Amherst students: Julie Moorman ’11, who graduated last year and is the Choral TA [teaching assistant] this year, David Ressler ’13 and Hilary Budwey ’13, all of whom are phenomenally talented. I consider myself very, very lucky to be working with them. I’m also in the process of putting the orchestra together. Jesse Fried ’12 is working with me as a pianist and rehearsal accompanist. Jeffrey Moro ’13 is directing. Beccie Magnus ’13 is doing lighting and stage managing. There are just so many people who are helping me with this, and of course, both the Music and Russian Department faculty have been incredible. It’s a lot of work, but I have a lot of help, and I think if there’s any kind of work that I would devote an all-nighter to, it would definitely be composition. This is really what I love doing most in my academic work and studies.

Any low points?
A lot more time than I would like is spent doing administrative work, and that does take away from composition time. Another down was realizing I had to write my own libretto [the lyrics to which an opera is set]. I was hoping that something written in Russian would fall out of the sky. That didn’t quite happen, but I’m really enjoying working with this text, and it’s also fun to compare different translations. And, of course, the fact that my thesis performance is the second week of spring semester is both great and terrible. Because of that, this semester is really devoted to my thesis — hopefully next semester I’ll get to relax a little bit, or at least sleep a little more. Other than that, it’s been okay so far. I’m definitely prepared for the ups and downs that come with every thesis. Every day is a kind of new adventure in that sense.

Any advice for people thinking about writing a thesis?
If you’re going to write a thesis, it has to be on something that you really love to do. You’ll have to be willing to give it your full attention for a good portion of the year. Ultimately, if it’s your passion, then definitely go for it.