The stained-glass window in Franklin & Marshall College’s Nevin Chapel diffused the early-evening light as senior Parker Neathery watched a pianist and 10 singers perform “Zum Tod Folgen,” or “Follow unto Death,” under his direction.
The late April performance of Neathery’s German opera lasted 30 minutes. It was an independent study project he researched and composed in the last year, and completed an academic career for the joint major in German and business, organizations and society.
“It really wasn’t because I was a lover of opera; I loved that it had all my passions and interests, and was a place where they all intersected,” he said.
For guidance, Neathery turned to Meagan Tripp, visiting instructor of German, with his idea to write an opera in in that language. He spent the fall semester working one-on-one with Tripp to develop a libretto.
“To me, he’s one of our students who has taken full advantage of the liberal arts,” Tripp said.
This semester, Neathery worked with John Carbon, Richard S. and Ann B. Barshinger Professor of Music, on composing the music to accompany his lyrics. In his sophomore year at F&M, he took music theory that helped his composition.
As a Christian, Neathery admires German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who described in his 1937 book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” what is means to follow Christ.
“Reading that in high school was a big thing for me, and was definitely part of the reason I decided to take German,” he said.
In 1944, Bonhoeffer, an anti-Nazi dissident, was accused of being one of the plotters in the failed coup against Adolf Hitler. He was sent to a concentration camp, where he was executed by hanging in April 1945.
“What it means to be a Christian is not something you should take lightly,” Neathery said. “Bonhoeffer lived that out all the way to being killed himself. He lived his faith.”
In fall of his junior year, Neathery studied abroad in Germany, where he traveled to places like Worms Cathedral, an important site of the Protestant Reformation, and one of the concentration camps from the Nazi-era.
“I was able to visit Dachau, just to realize how real some of these things were,” he said.
With Bonhoeffer as an influence, Neathery wrote “Zum Tod Folgen,” the story about Apostle Peter, his wife, and several other prisoners sent to Nero, the Roman emperor, for execution. They also lived their faith.
“The opera is saying, in a very deep way, ‘Who are you following and where does that end up?’” Neathery said.