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Opera not as scary as you might think!

October 24, 2007

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    October 24, 2007
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    Opera Carolina News

Opera not as scary as you might think!

A friend's spontaneous invitation to accompany him to the opera on Saturday evening elicited from me a curious, but decisive, yes. Having never been to an opera, but an ardent admirer of theatre, the decision was an easy one, and I was set for a new experience. The opera in question was Charles Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette" at Opera Carolina in Charlotte, and I felt fortunate to have such a familiar plot for my first experience, since I knew I would not understand the language (French).

Prospective audience members should be aware that the opera is three acts instead of the play's five and that, while numerous changes to Shakespeare's plot were made for the opera, it retains the general storyline that we love from the original. In fact, Opera Carolina even abbreviated Gounod's opera, which is probably a good thing, considering that the cast was still bowing three hours after the curtains opened.

My expectations drew mainly from repeated viewings of "Pretty Woman." Needless to say, in the minutes I had to get ready, I donned a black dress and pearls, thinking of Julia Roberts's evening gown and jewels, because I wasn't sure if the relaxed dress code of today's society would apply to Opera Carolina, I decided to play it safe.

It came as no real surprise, however, that when we entered the theatre, the audience's attire ranged from casual to formal, something that I think makes opera more approachable to today's public.

Hesitancy to attend the opera due to the language barrier is needless; the theatre projected English subtitles above the stage. As excited as I was to be able to follow along, I have to wonder whether the projections deterred my attention from the stage too often.

It was more enjoyable to watch the stage and deduce the meaning of the lyrics from the actions and highly emotional staging. The beauty of the music and the singers along with the grandeur of the stage were lovely enough not to require subtitles. Richard Gere told Julia Roberts that she would be able to understand the opera despite her lack of Italian; the real comprehension is emotional and found not in the lyrics but the music.

I found the casting of Mercutio and the Friar most engaging, and I enjoyed whenever either of them made an entrance onstage. The addition of Stephano, an adolescent friend of Romeo, was charmingly played in the operatic tradition by a woman. However, my least favorite cast members were the leads:

Romeo was not quite the dashing romantic we expected from Shakespeare, and his voice failed to captivate compared to the other male singers on stage. Juliet, along the same lines, was less than inspiring. That is not to say that the lovers were dreadful; quite the contrary.

The general spectacle of the performance left the greatest impression on my memory of the evening. My theatre major companion and I were envious of Opera Carolina's enormous budget.

The disdain with which people view the performance art is unfortunate. The sheer talent I witnessed was enough to convince me that opera is well worth the sacrifice of an evening on Patterson Court.

Friends who warned of boredom after hours spent listening to high notes and lovers' serenades were pleasantly wrong. I found the experience very approachable yet elegantly reminiscent of romantic notions I have always held. "Romeo et Juliette" may be the first opera I have had the opportunity to enjoy but Opera Carolina impressed me enough that I fully intend to make attendance a habit.

If you're having second thoughts about viewing Davidson's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore on Nov. 10 and 11.

The emotional power and beauty of song that can be experienced at the opera is something that should be experienced at least once, and at the very least you'll be able to do a decent job of imitating Adam Sandler's Opera Man character.

The Davidsonian
By: Katie Miller
Issue date: 10/24/07
Section: Arts & Living