September 20th, 21st and 22nd

St. Clement’s Church Community Hall, Berkeley CA

2837 Claremont Blvd,  Berkeley, CA 94705 | DIRECTIONS

About the opera

Composed, produced and directed by Ben Bernstein

Never Mind tells the story of an African-American coloratura soprano in her dressing room 30 minutes before she goes on stage for her debut performance as a soloist in Handel’s Messiah. We watch her as she finishes dressing and warms up, practicing various vocal exercises, along with snippets of the arias she is about to sing. All the while, we are hearing the voices in her head: her mother’s (who was also her voice teacher), her own, and the Messiah conductor’s. The voices are encouraging, questioning and critical. The cacophony becomes increasingly troublesome and anxiety-provoking, and it almost seems as if she will lose the struggle for confidence that is essential for performance. Ultimately, she finds her inner strength, and, fully dressed and ready, she exits the dressing room to go onstage for the performance.


Ticket Price: $25/ea

  • Friday, September 20, 2024, at 8 PM
  • Saturday, September 21, 2024, at 8 PM
  • Sunday, September 22, 2024, at 4 PM

A reception to meet the artists and enjoy light refreshments will follow each performance.

This production is made possible by a grant from InterMusicSF and a generous donation from Bernice Lindstrom.

About the performers

Coloratura soprano, Shawnette Sulker, plays The Soprano. Esteemed soprano Hope Briggs plays the voice of the Mother/Singing Teacher. Clarinetist Cory Wright and violist Justin Ouellet are the instrumentalists. Sound design engineering and are by McKay Garner.

Shawnette Sulker

Shawnette Sulker

The Soprano

Hope Briggs

Hope Briggs

Voice of the Mother

Ben Bernstein

Ben Bernstein

About the composer/producer/director

Ben Bernstein, composer, director and producer, began his opera career in 1986 as Gian-Carlo Menotti’s assistant director at the Juilliard School’s American Opera Center. Ben’s award-winning settings to The Song of Songs have been performed around the US, and he has directed numerous original productions in theater and opera. Under the auspices of The Singer’s Gym, which he founded in 1992, he has conducted workshops for the Merola Opera Program and the Adler Fellowship Program at the San Francisco Opera.


The Messiah Complex

Never Mind is part of an opus titled The Messiah Complex. It includes four other one acts —one for each of the other soloists in the same performance of Handel’s Messiah. Each act shows a singer one-half hour before the same performance of the full Messiah begins, and the internal battle each faces. A fifth act has all four soloists on stage, with a mini-Baroque orchestra, conductor, and small chorus, performing a severely collaged performance of the entire Messiah, with the audience joining in the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

The first of the one-act operas in The Messiah Complex premiered in 2010, was entitled The Man in the Mirror. This piece went on to be a hit at a major international Handel Festival in Seattle.

Never Mind and Community Outreach

Never Mind will highlight the challenges of any artist preparing for a performance, but in particular, the challenges faced by a young African American vocal artist working today, in the early stages of her career, performing a well-known work at a major venue, and all the pressure that entails. Through recorded voice-over, the work will explore her emotional state as well as the contrasts that arise in her mind between the words that she is singing in her solos, compared to her own spiritual beliefs and worldview.

With appropriate funding, Never Mind will provide the The Singer’s Gym with opportunities to present outreadh performances, in schools and community centers, focusing on the involvement of Black and African American musicians in the world of classical music, and the particular challenges that those artists have had to overcome, from the American contralto Marian Anderson who sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after being denied the right to perform at Constitution Hall because of the color of her skin; to composer Florence Price, who became the first female composer of African descent to have a symphonic work performed by a major national symphony orchestra.