French pronunciation reigns in Le Roi Soleil Theatre

So you think you can speak French?

By Hannah Fletcher

Aris Sheiner isn’t French, but he plays Frenchmen on stage. The University of Colorado Boulder sophomore is a self-described Francophile with a passion for the French language, so he jumped at the chance to take part in a unique course that allowed him to fine-tune his French and play the roles of two 17th-century men who were major players during King Louis XIV’s reign.

In the fall course “French Pronunciation through Musical Performance,” Sheiner and a dozen classmates rehearsed and presented the French musical Le Roi Soleil— or The Sun King in French— about the life of King Louis XIV. Sheiner played French Prime Minister, Cardinal Mazarin, and King Louis XIV’s favorite playwright, Moliere.

“A lot of students spent time outside of class to make sure this happened,” he said. “Everyone was able to contribute something different. That was part of the magic. It inspired people to go above and beyond. It was our first priority, because it was fun.”

Some students, like Sheiner, had theatre and vocal experience from high school; others were true novices. Together, the students improved their language skills and performed the musical for the public and area middle and high school language students on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9.

Danica Trifunovic, CU-Boulder French instructor, developed “French Pronunciation through Musical Performance.” Trifunovic is not a native French speaker, but when she was a child she vowed to master the language. She remembers particularly enjoying French songs and how mirroring her favorite French singers helped her learn proper French pronunciation.

“I thought it would be good to have singing in class. I discovered the latest research suggests singing is much more engaging and that is why people remember songs,” she said. “In song, students more easily hear their mistakes. There is something about singing. When they sing, their pronunciation is much better.”

The program is a result of collaboration between the Department of French and Italian, the Department of Theatre and Dance, and the College of Music and is funded by a CU-Boulder Outreach Award.

In addition to engaging undergraduates, the program aimed to involve area middle and high school French classes. The classes attended a rehearsal where the visiting students learned about the reign of Louis XIV through a study guide, and CU-Boulder students acted as their educators. The classes were invited to learn a few of the Le Roi Soleil musical numbers and submit a recording of the students performing the pieces.

A jury of French Department faculty and staff selected Susie Mitzelfeld’s French class at Centaurus High School in Lafayette for the “Best Pronunciation in Songs” honor. The Centaurus class was invited to attend the final performances in December, and the class joined the CU-Boulder cast to perform two opening songs and scenes.

Trifunovic said the semester’s short time frame meant that the students had to quickly learn the songs and further illustrated the students’ dedication to the musical.

“The students will remember this musical and this experience for all of their lives,” she said.

Sheiner agreed and said he will miss his classmates and the course in the spring semester. He commended Trifunovic for her dedication to her students, the course, and the quality of the final performances.

“She is very passionate about this musical. Very few instructors would have been able to pull this off,” he said.

For Trifunovic, the feeling is mutual.

“And I am lucky to have such students,” she said, smiling at Sheiner. “That is my joy. It’s an absolute pleasure, and there is nothing better than that.”

Hannah Fletcher is communication specialist for the CU-Boulder Office for University Outreach and Engagement.

 

 

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