Following Personal Tragedy, Students, Faculty Rally Behind Opera Instructor
Last year when Dawn Pawlewski Krogh selected Mozart’s The Magic Flute as this year’s opera, she knew she had her work cut out for her.
“The Magic Flute is one of my favorites,” said Krogh, a music instructor at Nebraska Wesleyan University.
But she wasn’t fond of the racist dialogue so she planned to rewrite it. She also had extensive costuming and a stage set to make and organize. It was no easy undertaking, but she had nearly a year to work on it.
But on October 27, 2011, personal tragedy struck.
Krogh’s husband, Rod, was on his way to NWU from his job at the state capitol to see his wife. That afternoon he drove a different route to campus. At 44th Street and Cornhusker Highway, Rod’s car collided with a cement truck, ejecting him from the car and causing serious brain trauma.
Rod spent 18 days in the ICU followed by numerous scheduled and unscheduled surgeries, followed by months of therapy.
The opera was the farthest thing from her mind at the time.
“I admit there were many times that I said, ‘we can’t do the opera,’” Krogh recalled. “But it broke my heart for the students who were so looking forward to it.”
Little did she know her opera students were going to make the show go on regardless. They rehearsed their music, created delicate decorations, and helped rewrite the dialogue that Krogh was concerned with.
“It was a good study break,” said sophomore Laynee Woodward, who spent hours on the opera’s decorations. “I treated it like I do homework. It needed to get done.”
Woodward had decorating help from junior Cadie Jochum who plays the lead female, Pamina, in The Magic Flute.
“We just wanted to make sure Dawn didn’t feel overwhelmed here,” said Jochum. “All we had to worry about was school. She had so much more to worry about.”
Slowly the production came together. Music faculty stepped in and assisted with rehearsals. A recent NWU graduate offered her theatre expertise and helped with staging. Friends helped build a set. An anonymous donor provided funds for a moving company to haul a large, fragile backdrop from Lincoln’s Pershing Auditorium to the O’Donnell Auditorium stage.
“The faculty here are really like family to me,” said Krogh.
As are her students. Krogh recalled the night of the accident when she made her way to the hospital’s waiting room only to find students Woodward and Jochum sitting there.
“They were with me when I found out about Rod’s accident,” said Krogh. “They followed me to the hospital to make sure I was okay.”
Krogh is back to directing the rehearsals, which often follow long days of doctors appointments and bandage changes to her husband’s head wounds. They rehearse well into the evening, most times wrapping up practice around 11 p.m.
“This really is good for me,” Krogh said of the long rehearsals. “I wouldn’t be as good to Rod or our son if I didn’t have this outlet. It helps to see the students’ joy.”
And while they are still tweaking the production, the show will go on.
“Their voices are amazing,” said Krogh. “I have no worries about that.”
And she has no worries about impressing her biggest fan, who will be sitting in the audience for both performances.
“He will be there,” she said, smiling.
The Magic Flute will be performed Friday, March 30 at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday, April 1 at 3 p.m. in O’Donnell Auditorium. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students. Tickets will be available at the door. The production is free for NWU faculty, staff and students.