Opera Scenes offer an escape from stress

Nathan Lane

Amidst the fury of the final weeks of the final term of the school year, there were the arts. It’s been a busy time of year, and final projects abound. Luckily for us, though, while we crank out term papers and study for exams, the conservatory’s end of term projects are called concerts, and they are fun to go to.
I attended one such event in the form of the opera scenes. Instead of performing an entire opera, the Conservatory puts on selected scenes from multiple operas. Among those performed that night included the famous “Don Giovanni” and Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.”
Sophomore Catrina Poor was of the opinion that doing opera scenes gives students an excellent opportunity to attempt operas that, in their entirety, are too long or mature for students to try.
This could have definitely true in the case of Ullmann’s “Kaiser of Atlantis,” a modern opera, actually written in a concentration camp.
The scene in question involved a male and female soldier meeting on the battlefield and deciding whether to fight or fall in love. Also onstage was a drummer boy, representing Nazi Germany, encouraging them to fight.
The other scenes performed were more accessible. “Don Giovanni” was set in the modern era, with characters dressed in “Sopranos”-esque mafia garb and wielding pistols instead of rapiers.
The change was effective, and though some nuances could not cross the language barrier, a general sense of action and an inexplicable sense of urgency and drama definitely got through.
It was astonishing how much singers were able to communicate to the audience while singing in another language and with so little time for character development.
One scene from “Marriage of Figaro” involved one man joyously marrying what he thought was a sweet girl raised in a convent, only to discover that she was part of a plan by his relatives to take and squander his acquired wealth.
From the changing facial expressions and costuming of the bride alone, I found myself following the action perfectly.
Of course, operas contain some small bit of singing in addition to the action. I particularly enjoyed the singing of many of the bass voices that night for their unfailingly rich tone.
My tastes run toward the left end of the piano, but even so, I also found some enjoyment from the female voices. Opera’s tradition of high warbling sopranos can be an acquired taste for some, but the scene from “Carmen” was done so well that I could dismiss my perhaps undeserved prejudgment of that style.
Though skeptical of opera from my Bugs Bunny-inspired preconception of Viking-helmeted yodeling, what I saw that night makes a strong argument for opera’s ability to entertain and be relevant, even today.

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