Now that James and I are newly married, we have quite a social calendar. Last evening we had the pleasure of attending the Vancouver Opera’s full-on Broadway-style production of West Side Story.
Not only did this production feature the original Jerome Robbins choreography (which is bloody challenging), but the singers and dancers combined forces with VO’s 30-piece powerhouse orchestra to hold our attention. It was wild and loud and worthy of the Tony awards and nominations the original production received.
New to West Side Story? In 1957, Robbins conceived, choreographed and directed the show, with music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and book by Arthur Laurents. He’s renowned for this show, it just celebrated 50 years, and it rocked the critics in its day.
West Side Story is a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet (which the VO is staging next—get your tickets now), set in Hell’s Kitchen NYC (VO’s poster artwork for the show styles the location as Vancouver, which I think is a pretty cool touch).
The thing about West Side Story and Romeo and Juliet is that these are classic stories of love, rivalry, death and remorse that resonate today.
Both open with a street fight between rival gangs.
The girls are betrothed to other men.
There’s a party, then a balcony scene.
A wedding and a couple of dead kids.
So we went, and there were some great moments! The show was directed by Ken Cazan, who worked with Leonard Bernstein, and it was choreographed by Tracey Flye, one of the few in the world officially certified to coach the original Robbins choreography. Talk about pulling out the big guns.
If you want to see this show, you need to act quickly as it’s close to sold out. Remaining shows run Thursday, October 27, Friday, October 28 and a matinee and evening performance on Saturday, October 29.
If you don’t know West Side Story, instead of Romeo and Juliet, we have Tony and Maria (performed by Colin Ainsworth and Lucia Cesaroni) as our star-crossed lovers. Both are highly regarded opera singers for those of you poo-pooing the opera for opening its season with a Broadway-style production. These two have opera chops: Ainsworth, last seen on the VO stage as the love-struck Kristian in Lillian Alling, and Cesaroni, debuting on the VO stage and carrying on as soloist in The Messiah with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, both light up the stage in some of my favourite moments.
Maria in the Dress Shop with Anita. Cleopatra Williams as Anita; Lucia Cesaroni as Maria. Photo by Tim Matheson
Balcony Scene. Colin Ainsworth as Tony; Lucia Cesaroni as Maria. Photo by Tim Matheson
Dreaming of their wedding. Colin Ainsworth as Tony; Lucia Cesaroni as Maria. Photo by Tim Matheson
Beyond the singing, the dancing was gritty and full of energy. The first scene with the Sharks’ women and the dance hall was kung-pow!
Photo by Tim Matheson
So, if you haven’t gone to the opera in a while, West Side Story is a great place to start.
And if you enjoyed the Vancouver Opera’s performance of West Side Story, then the rest of the season is not to be missed. A natural follow-up to West Side Story is the opera’s upcoming production of Romeo & Juliet.
The pairings don’t end there. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra goes Looney Tunes with “Warner Bros. presents Bugs Bunny at the Symphony” running November 19-20. Match that with the Vancouver Opera’s The Barber of Seville, which opens March 17, 2012, and you’ll be finely tuned.
Vancouver Opera ran a contest a couple of months ago called Operabot. The Operabot contest invited animation students from North America to produce a 30-second to 4-minute short on any of the Vancouver Opera’s upcoming operas. There are 15 submissions on the Vancouver Opera’s YouTube group that are spectacular.
Ling Chan of the Vancouver Opera and Capulet Communications have been doing a couple of sessions for business groups on blogger outreach and twitter. Vancouver Opera’s success and Capulet’s expertise are written up in the Victoria Times Colonist, and the story went out on the Canwest wires and has been picked up by the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.
Hooray for Vancouver Opera, and congratulations to Capulet for being such superstars.
The opera’s blog is used to make it more accessible to people, educate them, increase awareness and make connections, Chan said. Other organizations have approached the opera about its social networking methods, which only started in spring of 2008.
Oh the curtains will be coming up on Salome tonight at the Vancouver Opera.
It is an opera in one act so it’s hard for me to gauge when things will be happening timewise so I’ll tell you a little about it.
Salome, the opera, is by Richard Strauss, the libretto by Hedwig Lachmann, and it’s based on Oscar Wilde’s stage poem of the same name.
We start on the roof-top terrace. Narraboth, the young captain of the guard, watches the stepdaughter of Herod, Salome, at a banquet in the palace. He is besotted.
Salome’s father, Herod, has imprisoned John the Baptist. Amidst the sound of bickering banquet guests is the sound of John the Baptist prophesying the coming of the Messiah. John is usually portrayed as a strange man, think homeless with crazy hair. I’ll be interested in how this John is costumed.
The banquet is a bore. Salome leaves, hears the prophet, and decided to seek him out. He’s cursing her mother’s poor lifestyle choices (marrying the brother who killed her husband, you know how it is in these operas).
John is brought before Salome, who is reacts with a teenager reaction of freaky fascination. She wants to touch his skin, his hair, his lips. She’s obsessed. It’s rude. It’s weird. Then she wants a kiss. The prophet curses her.
Oh that besotted captain dies at some point here, which sets off Herod’s series of bizarre hallucinations. Depending on the staging, this is one of those stories that might be comprehensible if seen stoned. It’s a bit of a trip.
All of this leads up to the Dance of the Seven Veils.
This is where the nudity happens. Salome does a bit of a strip tease dance, and her reward is the execution of any of her heart’s desires, which happens to be the head of the prophet on a silver platter. Take a toke.
Her father freaks out and offers jewels, peacocks, half his kingdom, even the sacred veil of the Temple of the Jews, but Salome is determined.
There’s a bit of a necrophilia kissing of the severed head, which disgusted everyone and leads to Salome’s own death.
As I said, it’s a controversial and wildly seductive and erotic opera. I’ve seen it as a play, read it as a poem and watched it as a film. I would very much like to hear it as an opera because I bet the voices are powerful and strong.
Live blogging and twittering the Opera tonight is @trishussey @NetChick @Miss604 @Kimli @hummingbird604
I am in Victoria and can’t make it back in time for the opera, but Salome is one of my favourites so I wish that clone was ready to deploy. If I can fit it into my schedule, next performances are Tuesday, May 5, Thursday, May 7 and Saturday, May 9.
Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Georgia and Hamilton in Vancouver.
Tickets are available exclusively at the Vancouver Opera Ticket Centre, online at www.vancouveropera.ca or by telephone (604-683-0222).
Richard Strauss’ Salome is based on Oscar Wilde’s French play of the same name, which borrows from the gospels of Matthew and Mark.
Salome rocks because it’s Biblical, erotic, macabre and sensational.
Salome is also controversial. According to the materials Selina sent along:
At the Berlin Court Opera, the Kaiser would allow it to be performed only if a Star of Bethlehem was shown in the sky, even though the action of the opera takes place 30 years after the birth of Christ.
In London, Salome was banned by the Lord Chamberlain’s office until 1907.
That same year, at its premiere at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, there was such an outcry from wealthy patrons that the production was cancelled after the first night.
Viennese censors would not allow it to be performed until 1918.
Is there a coat check? And a bar?
Yes and yes!
Did you attend last night’s performance of Rigoletto, performed by the Vancouver Opera? Share your thoughts. Did you like it? What was your favourite opera this season? Are you a regular opera goer? Ladies, did you have a great dress? Gentlemen, best part of the evening?
There are a series of lights below the raised stage-cage where most of the performance takes place. We got to climb up to the stage from the lower deck.
On stage, we had a close look at the rigging for the cage doors that open and how the placements are marked out on the flooring.
Prop management is terribly important. Each thing is in its place and easy to grab as the performers go on stage. And it is returned to its place after use.
Downstairs in the bowels of the theatre are the props room, wigs and makeup and the repairs department. This dress is next up for a fix.
Live blogging the opera.
We were a small curiosity, sitting out in the lobby, tapping away on computers. It gave us a chance to talk about opera and here people’s stories about why they were there and what they like best about Vancouver Opera.
Just before I lost the wifi connection, I was trying to post this ...
Last minute preparation is in full swing. We just came from backstage where a couple of performers are walking the stage. We had a peak into the wigs and wardrobe room. Great set of red heels was in there.
Now we’re in the lobby drawing curious glances from the swish and swanky.
Lots of lovely beaded bags, cute shoes and every now and then a bit of sparkle, feathers and fur.
Favourite conversation thread:
Guest: What are you doing?
Us: Blogging the opera.
Guest: Oh, blogging.
Us: Giggle and tweet (ok, maybe that’s just me)
Ladies and Gentlemen the auditorium will be opening shortly. We hope you enjoy the performance.
Rigoletto, who is now obsessed with seeking revenge, has plotted with the assassin Sparafucile to kill the Duke. Gilda, who despite everything is still in love with the Duke, pleads with her father for his life. Rigoletto takes her to Sparafucile’s inn and forces her to watch as the Duke, again dressed as a student, seduces Maddalena, Sparafucile’s sister. Gilda is devastated and Rigoletto sends her away while he and Sparafucile finalize their plan to murder the Duke.
Meanwhile, Maddalena pleads with her brother to spare the handsome young student and to murder the hunchback instead. Sparafucile refuses to kill Rigoletto but agrees on a compromise: he will kill the next stranger who comes through the door so as to be able to produce a dead body. Gilda, who has returned, overhears the plan and she decides to sacrifice herself. She enters and is stabbed.
Rigoletto returns to the inn to claim the duke’s body. Sparafucile produces a heavy sack, which Rigoletto begins to drag away. As he does so, he hears the Duke singing in the distance. Frantic, he tears the sack open to find his dying daughter inside. As she dies, Rigoletto cries out, remembering Monterone’s curse.
Alone in his palace, the Duke is upset: when he returned to Gilda’s house he found it deserted. His courtiers enter and tell him how they have tricked Rigoletto, abducted Gilda and left her in the Duke’s chamber. Overjoyed that Gilda is now his, the Duke hurries off to meet her.
Rigoletto enters, desperately searching for Gilda. The courtiers are astounded to learn that she is his daughter, but refuse to take him to her. A Page reports that Gilda is alone with the Duke. Mad with rage, Rigoletto tries unsuccessfully to rescue her and is finally reduced to begging for her release. When a distraught Gilda rushes in, Rigoletto embraces her and orders the others to leave them alone.
Gilda then tells of her abduction and seduction at the hands of the Duke. Monterone is led through the room on his way to execution. Rigoletto swears both he and the elderly Count will be avenged, while Gilda, who loves her betrayer, begs her father to forgive the Duke.
At a riotous gathering, the Duke of Mantua boasts to his guests about his talent with women and especially his excitement over his latest amorous adventure. For the past three months he has been secretly pursuing a young woman he first saw in church.
Seeing the Count and Countess Ceprano, the Duke boldly seduces the Countess while his hunchbacked jester Rigoletto mocks her enraged but helpless husband. The courtier Marullo bursts into the gathering to share the latest gossip: Rigoletto has a mistress! The other courtiers, who all hate Rigoletto, discuss the news while Rigoletto continues to taunt an enraged Ceprano.
The debauchery of the evening is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the honourable Count Monterone, who denounces the Duke for seducing his daughter. Rigoletto delights in ridiculing Monterone as the Duke has him arrested. Turning on the jester, Monterone curses him, leaving him terrified.
Later that night, on the way home, Rigoletto runs into Sparafucile, an assassin. Sparafucile offers his services should Rigoletto ever need them and continues on his way. Forlornly, Rigoletto reflects on the parallels between Sparafucile and himself: one kills with his sword, the other uses his sharp tongue as his weapon.
His mood is lifted as he reaches his home and greets his beloved daughter, Gilda, a convent-raised young girl whom he tries to shield from the ugliness and danger of the outside world. Gilda asks for stories about her long-dead mother and Rigoletto describes her as an angel. He adds that Gilda is all he has left, so he fears for her safety. Gilda reassures him that, while she aches for more freedom, she ventures out only to go to church.
Hearing someone in the courtyard below, Rigoletto warns Gilda’s nurse, Giovanna, not to let anyone enter. As he leaves to investigate the noise, the Duke slips in and bribes Giovanna to leave him alone with Gilda. The Duke, disguised as a poor student, declares his love for Gilda, who has also noticed him at church. Giovanna comes in, warning of footsteps outside. The Duke leaves and an entranced Gilda relives the beauty of their romantic encounter.
Outside, the courtiers have gathered in the street intending to abduct Gilda, whom they believe to be Rigoletto’s mistress. Rigoletto appears, interrupting their plans, so they tell him they are going to abduct Count Ceprano’s wife, who lives nearby. Rigoletto agrees to help and is duped into wearing a blindfold and unknowingly helps them with the abduction of his own daughter. Laughing, the courtiers break into the house and carry Gilda away. Realizing he has been tricked, Rigoletto removes the blindfold and rushes into the house. He discovers Gilda is gone and collapses as he remembers Monterone’s curse.
My fellow blogger/tweeter at the Vancouver Opera tonight is Tris who’s sweetie is soprano Sheila Christie. Sheila is performing in Verdi’s Rigoletto.
Tomorrow night I’ll be joining my fellow bloggers for Verdi’s Rigoletto which is done in a new way with a punk-goth-mediaeval feel to it. In fact Sheila had some pink and purple highlight in her hair at the start of rehearsals (which could have been problematic) and they asked her to punch them up a notch for the performance! How rockin’ is that!?!
Our great opera-blogging evening is happening on opening night, which means fancy fashion, high heels, sparkles along with falsies and falsettos. Vancouver Opera posts their fashion favs in their Fashion at the Opera facebook album.
Want to See Rigoletto? Queen Elizabeth Theatre @ 7:30 pm on the following dates:
Saturday March 7th
Tuesday March 10th
Thursday March 12th
Saturday March 14th
Tuesday March 17th.
Did I mention we get a backstage tour and will be live blogging before the show? Stop by at our table. I’ll let you know the wifi password.
I missed blogging Carmen because I was out of town in San Francisco. Apparently Carmen had actual smoking onstage, but there will be none of that for Rigoletto. I bet Verdi smoked.
Regardless, there will be nudity and suggestive scenes, and, according to publicist Selina, “a cage, and a girl who dies in a sack.”
What the hell is Rigoletto about?
Rigoletto is a misshapen jester whose barbs enrage the courtiers and induce an ominous curse. Gilda is his adored daughter who becomes the innocent victim of their revenge. Seduced by the philandering Duke, Gilda sacrifices her life to save his. Rigoletto is left broken and alone.