Have you ever been to an opera performance? Unless you’re a vocal studies student or a professional classical singer or a fan and regular patron of the opera, your eyes might glaze over at the invitation to go to:
Invented by the Italians, opera has been around since Shakespeare’s time, and was quickly embraced by the rest of Western Europe. Still, as an art form, it can be a little intimidating to the uninitiated and uninformed. All that singing! And in foreign languages! And who can even follow a story line when you’re busy reading subtitles?
What most people don’t realize is that opera is really just another form of musical theatre. We can thank opera for the majority of shows that appear today on Broadway stages. Even that popular Fox Network show about a bunch of high school kids in a glee club? Thank opera.
Let me tell you about my own first experience with opera here at Chapman University. The performance was
The Glory of French Grand Oper
a, fall semester 2014. The venue was Salmon Recital Hall in Bertea Hall. The stories were a collection of famous scenes from works by Bizet, Gounod, Massenet, Offenbach and Delibes. I didn’t know much about most of it, but I went with an optimistic and open mind. And oh boy, was I surprised!
Not only was the music stirring, and the synopsis in the program for each scene tremendously helpful, but the singing… the
! The vocal performance students of Chapman’s
Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music
were phenomenal. Their voices gave me goose bumps. Their music was moving and led me to tears. And eventually, they brought me to my feet as the standing ovation they so richly deserved went up around the room.
So to say that I am eagerly anticipating this week’s Opera Chapman performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s
L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love)
, in collaboration with The Chapman Orchestra, is putting it mildly.
Know Before You Go
This time, I actually did some homework on the story line of this opera. If you follow the College of Performing Arts on Facebook, you probably saw our earlier link to
a clever cartoon that perfectly summarizes this comedic gem of an opera
. Just knowing that little bit of background ahead of time can make all the difference in your experience.
I caught up with
Dr. Peter Atherton
, Director of Operatic Studies in the Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music, to ask him about this week’s opera performance opening Friday, April 24 through Sunday, April 26 in the grand Chapman Auditorium in Memorial Hall.
Despite a very busy rehearsal schedule, Dr. Atherton shared with me a few behind-the-scenes details about this performance.
First of all, I learned that there IS spoken dialog in English during this production, as well as subtitles for the sections of Italian song. So those of you who feel some angst over the language aspects of opera in general can relaaax.
Like most musical theatre performances, a whole host of people is involved behind the scenes besides the 45 cast members who you will see and hear singing and speaking on the stage and the orchestra of over 40 musicians who will perform the opera’s music. Lavish costumes and makeup, glitzy set design, props and lighting are also part of the planning process. According to Dr. Atherton, the vocal students have been rehearsing since December 2014. Around the same time,
Professor Don Guy
’s crew of production students began holding their design meetings. Actual set construction began in March. And The Chapman Orchestra has been rehearsing the music for the opera, under the direction of
Dr. Stephen Coker
, putting in 42 hours of playing time over the past six weeks!
The Elixir of Love
is one of Donizetti’s most popular and widely-performed operas, perhaps because everyone loves a romantic comedy. Dr. Atherton’s account of the famous tale goes like this:
The Elixir of Love is the story of a simple bellboy, Nemorino, who is in love with a beautiful starlet, Adina. She’s rich and he’s poor, and she won’t give him the time of day. After hearing Adina read about the legend of Tristan and Isolde [whose lives are forever changed by a magic potion], Nemorino wonders if a love potion might be the answer to his woes. Cue the arrival of Doctor Dulcamara, a slick salesman and purveyor of a bottled cure that just might do the trick. But time is running out — Adina has agreed to marry the handsome and egotistical Sergeant Belcore. Will the potion work? Will the Doctor get out of town before anyone discovers the potion’s a hoax? Will Nemorino get the girl?
Traditionally depicted in a small 18th-century Basque country village, this particular production of the story is instead re-imagined in the slightly more “hip” location of Las Vegas in the 1950s, when the “Rat Pack” reigned and Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, or James Dean were on every magazine cover.
Even if you’ve read the notes for this opera and know how it ends, the greatest fun of any story is in the telling of it – so make plans to see this performance before it’s too late!
At press time, I’m told that tickets are still available for all three performances, which begin promptly at 7:30 p.m. April 24 and 25, and 3:00 p.m. April 26. General admission is $20; $15 for senior citizens, alumni, and non-Chapman students. Call (714) 997-6812 or order online at
I’ve already got my tickets to the opera, and am looking forward to more thrilling goose bumps, and maybe even
Una furtiva lagrima*
(secret tear) or two!
The romanza (love song) sung in act 2, scene 8 of L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love).