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UNL hosts the premiere of the Gambler’s Son, an opera based on Mari Sandoz’s 1960 novel

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The Gambler's Son premiered November 15 at the Kimball Recital Hall. Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“To paint a man is to know him”

The Gambler’s Son, an opera based on Mari Sandoz’s 1960 novel, premiered at the Kimball Recital Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus Nov. 17. The opera showcased two connecting timelines as the main focus of the show.

The main character is Robert Henri, a world-renown painter who paints stunning realistic portraits. One evening, he is set to paint a portrait for a man named Mr. Cozad.

Unbeknownst to Henri’s servants, Mr. Cozad is his father. They shared a glance and a song; however, they never look directly at each other or share any family gesture.

“To understand the opera as a whole, you (as an audience member) must understand the theme, To paint a man is to know him,” said show director William Shomos.

As the opera goes on, the audience is treated to flashbacks highlighting the strained relationship between the two.

Mr. Cozad was a former gambler and was notorious for spending all of the family’s money on cheap bets. For Robert, this put a strain on the family and ultimately led to the destruction of the family’s wealth and livelihood.

The audience could see the strained relationship with Robert’s many attempts at painting his father. For Robert to capture the right image of his father, he must know who he is – which is not an easy task.

Robert soon understands the real reason behind his inability to paint his father. He must see his father’s life through a process of excavating his memories, only then will he truly understand his father.

“I could feel every emotion. I felt like I was part of the show, even though I was just in the audience,” said one audience member.

The opera ends with Robert and his father mending their strained relationship and Robert finally being able to finish the portrait of his father. They begin talking about the lives they experienced away from each other.

The opera received a standing ovation, one that was greatly deserved. The show and its message resonated throughout the audience.

“To understand our fellow human beings is to know the road they have journeyed, not to judge, but to understand. To see each other with clarity and light, and like Henri’s art, to help transform the pains of the past into beauty and value,” Shomos said.