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'A Scholar Under Siege' debuts Friday at the PAC

GSU's Michael Braz wrote opera for Centennial celebration

After three years of research and countless hours of rehearsals, "A Scholar Under Siege" is set to debut at Georgia Southern's Performing Arts Center Friday.

            The opera, written by Dr. Michael Braz, deals with a power struggle between Georgia Southern president Marvin Pittman and Georgia Gov. Eugene Talmadge over academic freedom in the early 1940s.

            "This is really the largest and most important thing I've ever done," Braz said of the work. "When trying to create these characters and what they say, it's a huge responsibility to get it right and I never lost track of that."

            The ensuing fight led to the firing of Pittman and University of Georgia President Walter Cocking by the Board of Regents, which was stacked with Talmadge appointees. That, in turn, led to Georgia universities losing their accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

            Many believe that led to Talmadge losing his reelection bid in 1942 to Ellis Arnall. With Talmadge out of the picture, Pittman and Cocking were both offered their old jobs back. Cocking had already taken a job elsewhere, but Pittman returned to Georgia Southern after what he called his "Talmadge Sabbatical."

            The opera will be performed at the Georgia Southern Performing Arts Center on Friday through Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for Georgia Southern students and children under 18. It was written to help celebrate the university's centennial celebration.

            "It's such a significant part of Georgia Southern's history," Braz said.

            Braz, a longtime professor at the university, said he wrote the opera not as a political drama, but as a look at how people view and use power.

            "Some people use it in ways that are constructive and as a way to better themselves educationally or to use their talents," Braz said. "Some people try to assume power at the expense of other people. That goes on today and it's always gone on."

            Sarah Hancock, who is directing and producing the opera, said one of the challenges she faces is dealing with the historical aspects of the drama.

            "To what extent do we need to cast people so they look like the historical figures they're portraying?" she said.

            Instead, she said she's focused on having the drama unfold and tell the story more than worry over the mannerisms of the individual characters.

            Hancock said the sets for the opera are "extraordinarily beautiful" and the story is easy to follow.

            She's really excited about the music Braz has written, saying "it's really, truly new music. It's challenging, but in a good way."

            Braz said he's anxious to see the opera performed after spending years working on it.

            "It's been a hugely gratifying experience," he said "I'm absolutely excited to see what is produced."

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