Arts & Culture

Operatic highs and lows at ‘bite-sized’ performance

Contributing Writer
Sunday, November 13, 2011

Notes both high and low filled the McCormack Family Theater this weekend as Brown Opera Productions presented “A Night of Opera Scenes.”  The show served as an introduction to opera for both attendees and participants, packing an ambitious combination of three scenes and two arias by composers such as Mozart and Henry Purcell into a performance running less than an hour.

Diego Ramos Rosas ’12, co-chair of Brown Opera Productions, said the show aspired to highlight opera as an art form with “many dimensions” and not just “a lot of singing.”

Ariana Gunderson ’14, production manager for the show, said Brown Opera Productions strived to give audiences a “bite-sized” taste of opera in an “accessible, but fun” performance.

In addition to working under student directors — often opera newbies from theater or musical theater backgrounds — performers got a chance to work with a professional vocal coach to enhance their classical singing abilities.

While the original intent was to focus on a theme, Brown Opera Productions ended up choosing scenes that best fit the talent of the performers, Rosas said.

Both Rosas and Gunderson said the scene festival recruits a lot of first-years and helps build interest for the group’s full-length opera in the spring.

The performance also attempts to foster operatic interest among the wider campus community. By showing “a bunch of short scenes that are really dynamic,” Gunderson said the show helps draw audience members unfamiliar with the genre into the world of opera.

The best performances of the night were scenes that incorporated multiple actors — the relationships between characters provided context to the isolated scenes.

Scenes from Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” and Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas” stood out. The actors in each scene brought vitality to their roles and looked comfortable on stage.

In “Cosi fan tutte,” Elias Spector-Zabusky ’15 and Zal Shroff ’14 were convincing as two men earnestly defending their lovers’ faithfulness against the cynicism of the wise and humorous Don Alfonso, played by John Brakatselos ’15. The trio’s singing and acting were both entertaining, making the scene enjoyable as a whole.

“Dido and Aeneas”  featured powerful vocals by Andrew Brown ’15 (Aeneas) and Ivy Alphonse-Leja ’14 (Dido) and nuanced acting by Alexander Sogo ’15. Arianna Geneson ’14 also shone in “Sull’aria” from Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro” as the Countess’s sassy maid.

But for the solo performances, the scenes were less dynamic. While the singing was on par, some of the performers looked uncomfortable on stage and appeared too worried about the difficulty of their songs to convey their characters. This awkwardness was magnified at the end of each scene by the strangely slow light transitions — the lights and music continued well past the point at which actors froze and stopped acting.

While it is difficult to portray one moment from a larger opera without other actors to play off of,  acting is necessary to help the viewer overcome the barrier of lyrics in a foreign language. The struggle to read the plot synopsis of some of the scenes in the dark theater just to know what was happening dampened the experience.

Overall, the show packed a lot of opera into about 40 minutes, but the night felt rushed and might have benefitted from a slower pace. If this was a “bite-sized” Brown Opera Production, hopefully the spring’s full-length opera will provide a more lasting taste.


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