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Saint Mary’s hosts 45th Annual Madrigal Dinners

| Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Once a year, the lounge of a Saint Mary’s residence hall is transformed to host a Renaissance-themed meal featuring a show with a holiday twist. The event will take place this weekend with the College’s 45th-annual madrigal dinners. 

The dinner consists of a three-course meal with stages of entertainment between, Nancy Menk, one of the dinner’s coordinators, said.

“The Madrigal dinners are a recreation of a Renaissance era feast, probably [hosted] in some English manor house, overseen by royalty where there are a lot of performers that are gathered there for the evening,” she said.

Throughout the evening, there will be performances from Saint Mary’s Women’s Choir, instrumentalists and Renaissance dancers. The dinner will also feature a play written by communication studies professor Susan Baxter and and produced by director of special events, Richard Baxter. The story revolves around the master of the house, his wife and the fool, Feste.

History professor Bill Svelmoe said he is playing the role of Feste. 

“In this particular play, it’s the second one we’ve done in a series that follows this family,” Svelmoe said. “The master starts out very grumpy. He’s not in the Christmas spirit. So he welcomes everyone, but he’s grumpy about it and all the bills that are rolling in for this big meal. … The master … eventually gets into the Christmas spirit. It’s just this fun skit that weaves its way in and out during the meal.”

Though Svelmoe is a part of the play, he said his favorite part of the dinners is the performance by the Saint Mary’s Women’s Choir.

“It’s just fun to play the fool,” he said. “That’s a lot of fun, but I think just hearing the choir every year is probably my favorite part, especially at the very end when they sing ‘Silent Night.’ All the people at the feast join in. It’s just really, really lovely.”

The dinners are the perfect way to kick off the holiday season, Svelmoe said.

“It’s a fun way to start the Christmas season,” Svelmoe said. “I know it’s at a very busy time of year for students and people here at the college. … It’s just a terrific way to kick off Christmas.”

Extending beyond Saint Mary’s into the South Bend community, the event gets people into the Christmas spirit, Menk said.

“I see people in the audience there that I’ve seen every year for years,” she said. “They come and they start to bring their kids and their grandkids. It’s just something they do every holiday, and it’s become a tradition.”

Menk said the traditional aspect of the dinner is one of her favorite things about the event. It brings back childhood memories of her father singing a carol from a madrigal dinner.

“I love the procession of the boar’s head,” Menk said. “It represents the bringing in of the main course. It’s led by a procession of the boar’s head on a platter, and it processes all around the room. It’s very majestic, and we sing a beautiful carol about that called ‘The Boar’s Head Carol.’

“ … I love the looks on the people’s faces when that pig’s head comes around, especially the little kids. It’s just surprising to see that on the platter. It’s such a traditional part, and that’s probably my favorite part when that boar’s head comes out.”

Though the dinner does not change much from year to year, Menk said the tradition is what keeps people coming back.

“It doesn’t change much from year to year,” she said. “It’s a very traditional thing. People keep coming back because they just love it.”

The final day to purchase tickets is Wednesday. Call the Saint Mary’s College box office to check for availability.

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