Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Opera: A Love Story

After the opera-blogging I did over the last two VOA seasons, I'll admit it's been a relief, this month and last, simply to settle in next to my husband and enjoy the opera. But even though it means stealing time from my paid work (oh, what a mountain of marking I'm facing this week -- and I'm trying to finish two proposals for papers to be published or presented), I do like to spread the word about the exciting entertainment staged by the VOA at Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth theatre.

So here's a brief description of our experience at Saturday's opening-night Vancouver Opera Association performance of Gounod's Roméo et Juliette:

Settling into my seat as last-minute ticket-holders are seated, I enjoy the ritual of dimming lights, the various tuning efforts of diverse instruments gradually vibrating into silence, the audience's murmurs getting quieter, the light that marks the conductor's entrance in the orchestra pit just in front of, and below, the stage. The applause that greets him is amplified by his acknowledgment of his orchestra as we include them in our tribute. Then a collective breath-holding, a hush, as the conductor's baton slices through the air, launching the evening's musical entertainment.

Always, as I am attending closely to the overture, whether recognizing well-known themes or analyzing ones new to me, my ears are distracted by the demands on my eyes as the curtain rises to reveal the wonders of the stage set. Perhaps because Gounod's Roméo et Juliette presented me with the luxurious combination of a story I know well (doesn't everyone?) with music about to be discovered, I was especially aware of the phenomena involved in watching an opera.

Beyond the appreciation of the opening rituals, I noticed my delight at the stage set of this production of Roméo et Juliette. Along with the sumptuous costumes, the set hails from Utah (one of the rewards of my previous opera-blogging was going backstage and learning more about the business of building, getting, lending, and transporting the various material demands that go into opera design construction -- I miss that!),  Elaborately detailed, its balconies, pillars, and pleasing Classical symmetries offer a satisfying background. Its drama is heightened by the "mist" that wreathes the stage as the curtain rises to a choral prologue laying out the historical background while a lively brawl signals the long-simmering, murderous feud between the Montagues and the Capulets.

As Juliette, Vancouver soprano Simone Osborne, playing to a home crowd after considerable national and  international acclaim, held our attention immediately. Even before she began singing, she captured a 13-year old's physicality convincingly enough that one could almost sense a collective calculation: could a singer so young be on stage, working as a professional? Osborne's acting was most amusingly effective as she parries the amorous advances of the much older Paris, intended by her family as a "good catch of a match" for her. And then with the delightful "Je veux vivre," Juliette's waltz aria, I was smitten as, of course, very soon was Roméo.

There were numerous other convincing performers, particularly Julie Boulianne as Stéphano and Peter Volpe as Frère Laurent. As well, I was interested to see the adaptations that librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré made to Shakespeare's play. I found the staging of Juliette's deliberation over the risks of Frère Laurent's plan very effective, but wondered at the logistic risks implicit in having her collapse at the wedding scene rather than be discovered, supposedly dead, in her bed (not risks to the staging, but rather, riskiness of Juliette's plan around the poison's timing).  From an opera-lover's perspective, the librettists' decision to have Juliette awake while Roméo is still conscious allows for a very satisfying, albeit heart-tuggingly sad, musical moment.

Consider grabbing tickets for Thursday's or Saturday's performances (and I quickly assure you that I receive no compensation from VOA for singing their praises, and that we pay for our own season's tickets, as we have for 5 or 6 years).  Let me know what you think.

Oh, and if you're wondering what I wore, I'll admit that I trotted out this dress yet again, with slightly different accessories.

Next post: Where we ate before the opera, haute cuisine at bargain prices in Vancouver


  1. Thanks for a wonderful post. I just attended the National Ballet's production of Romeo and Juliet in Toronto on the weekend with my five-year-old and it was such a joy!

    A friend of mine was so impressed when I told her my daughter sat through it relatively quietly and enjoyed the music (at one point, she started waving her arm around to the music like a little conductor - though I had to stop her so she didn't disturb others).

    We had such a wonderful time having a "girls day". I love reading about others' experiences with arts and culture and it's one of the things I love about your blog. It is such a treat for the soul to take a break from work and other worries and lose oneself in a great performance! I am so happy to be able to expose my kids to it at a young age. (Son is still too young at three years and much too rambunctious a character.) --Hope

  2. Your recap of this opera is so lively and engaging! This would be one I'd make an effort to see, should it be performed someday in LA.

  3. I saw a performance of Gounod's Romeo et Juliette on Valentine's Day a couple of years ago, and I loved it. I wish I could just hop a plane and catch a performance at the VOA!

    And that dress you wore is spectacular!

  4. What jumps out at me reading this is your delight and engagement with the opera experience. You bring it to life!

    It must be nice not to have to be "on" blogging the experience in detail, but I did enjoy those posts.

    I'm off to spend a weekend in the wine country at the Bishop's Ranch in Healdsburg with 10 of my church girlfriends. I'll check in again next week.

  5. Hope: Thanks for sharing your mother-daughter experience at the ballet. I think it's wonderful that you're exposing her to the arts already and also just to the experience of dressing up, meeting a certain standard of behaviour, all the aspects involved with an event like this. I suspect it will become a favourite memory of hers.
    Sue: Especially with your fondness for Renaissance costumes, and of course a strong familiarity with the narrative, I think you'd enjoy this.
    Raquelita: That's a romantic Valentine's Day! And thanks, re the dress. It's my 3rd Annual Late Fall Opera dress . . . and I may go for a 4th next year . . .
    Susan T: Oh, you're going to have so much fun, aren't you!


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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