Here’s a good question: how many of you reading this know what opera is? Mhm… really? And when was the last time you went to one? Riiiight. That’s what I thought. Opera is one of those things that people tend to either subscribe to religiously, or avoid altogether. So… group number two… why is that? I suspect the answer is that the picture you have of opera in your mind doesn’t appeal to you. Fair enough. But what does that picture look like? Adam Sandler doing opera man? Elmer Fudd’s kill the wabbit? We’ve all seen operatic impressions, for sure. But until you’ve actually been to the opera, you haven’t really seen opera, and can’t really say you know what it is. Agreed? Good. Let’s start there.
I do get it though. There’s a moat of sorts around opera. It’s kind of a come over here attitude, rather than I’ll come over there. It’s one of those art forms that zealous supporters protect with their lives. And not nearly enough effort has been made to communicate its appeal to the general public. Advertise yes… but not communicate… or maybe translate is a better word. Either way, I’d like to give it a shot here using my Rodelinda experience to construct a sort of mini-guide for potential first-timers.
Having been raised on opera and classical choral music by a mother who to this day still sings in a professional choir, and having trained in opera myself as a youth, I can claim at least some understanding. Although my life took me in other directions and I’ve stayed active in many performing arts circles, prior to Rodelinda it’d been over a decade since I’d been to the opera. So I might be just the man for this job.
Ok. The first thing that will take you by surprise when you get to the theatre is the warm and decidedly non-stuffy welcome. There will be greeters at the door in addition to the theatre’s front of house staff. They will answer any questions you have then usher you into the foyer where you may be offered an amuse-bouche or two. Don’t worry, they aren’t trying to sell you anything. Just go with it.
Take some time to read the program before the show. I’ll tell you that Rodelinda is a story (sung in Italian) about war, politics, deceit, and love. But reading a more detailed synopsis ahead of time will make a big difference… more about that later.
As the show starts you’ll be introduced to the Victoria Symphony. Not a symphony fan? You will be. The deep strings will shake your insides while the harpsichord takes you to another place… another time… long ago.
Then… the vocalists. No one can hear the power and control in these voices and not be impressed. I don’t care who you are. There is something inside all of us that bows down a little when we hear a sound that is many years in the making. This cast is more than solid, with standouts Nathalie Paulin (Rodelinda) and Gerald Thompson (Bertarido) leading the way. Speaking of Thompson, don’t be confused when a guy who looks (from a distance) like Mickey Rourke from The Wrestler launches into a vocal range closer to Kurt Hummel from Glee. During the Baroque period, which gave rise to this and many other operas, leading roles were often played by castrati (you’re going to have to look that one up). These roles are now frequently played by countertenors like Thompson. It takes a minute to digest but you’ll get over it, and then you’ll see Thompson as the star of the show like I did. He has one solo near the end, just… wow. That’s all I have to say.
I mentioned above that knowing a little about the story ahead of time is important. But that’s not so you can ignore the surtitles. It’s so that you don’t have to treat those words as information and can enjoy them as they were intended. One of the things that struck me the most about this opera was how poetic it was. Like spoken word… but sung. Allow yourself to get lost in the words as you listen to the voices and the symphony. If you do, I guarantee you’ll be a convert for life.
One last thing, prepare yourself for the applause. The night I went the audience erupted as the final note was sung. It was the loudest and longest ovation I’ve heard at any performance all year. Pacific Opera Victoria has some enthusiastic fans in this town, that’s for sure. And after this performance I count myself among them. I’ll be back for sure.
You can still see Rodelinda on November 18th and 20th, at 8pm at the Royal Theatre