Make That An Order of Opera–Human, Not Biggie Sized!

Gary John LaRosa's inventive and fresh direction allowed the audience to connect with the play's characters.

Life has its twists and turns—and every now and then, there is even a surprising  U-turn that takes  you back to somewhere you have been once before. Much like my recent experience with our production of  A  Midsummer Night’s Dream.

My first public foray into opera was more of a quick dip than an immersion, yet it still resulted in a full scale conversion. I was hooked—by Mozart, in fact, and his frothy, whipped cream-topped, caramel brulee frappuccino of an opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Indeed, what’s not to love? But that’s a question we’ll come back to.

Meanwhile, back to my whippersnapper years. After losing my virgin  status (operatically speaking, of course)  to Figaro, I felt compelled to compose  a letter and send it to the Birmingham News,  commenting on the parallels  between the then- current soap opera shenanigans of General Hospital’s Luke and Laura and the equally far-fetched schemes portrayed in the opera.

I wondered then, and have often  wondered since– why  would an afternoon soap opera command the media, while  the Marriage of Figaro generally  winds up being a wedding attended by only close  family and friends of the ah-per-rah.

You could posit that it rests with the music. But I know lots of people who truly do love all kinds of music, from reggae  to Gregorian. What’s stopping them from enjoying an opera?

It’s often chalked  up to the unintelligible words—but that hazard has been eliminated with  subtitles strung over the stage.

Here’s an incoming thought.  Maybe it’s not the medium itself, but  about the FEELING. Or the lack there of–so much focus is often  on what is written on the staff, and the big picture of what the story is all about gets lost in the shuffle.

I don’t speak Spanish, but sometimes I turn on a Latino radio station precisely

In the right hands, silk flowers become magical.

because I can’t understand the words. Not knowing what the heck they are saying allows me to take in and absorb  the joy, the happiness, or the sadness of the music so that the song  stretches to fit my own joy, happiness, or sadness.

Why shouldn’t opera simply be enjoyed–why should the audience be made to feel that they are the  second cousin twice removed from the characters? Why shouldn’t we see ourselves in the refraction of their portrayal?

Art is supposed to be about expression. It’s a lousy precept that wants to tell us our emotions are less than—or even separate from our spirits and our minds and the manner in which we appreciate art. Even physicality matters.

Art is an expression that is presented in such a way that we can grasp a corner of the universe and hold it and know it and feel it in such a way that we understand it.

These garlands are worn to the wedding, a reminder of the magical flower that creates unquestioning love in the heart of the beholder.

This is why I have such admiration for director Gary John LaRosa, who jumped into the driver’s seat of the premier production of our Midsummer Operapella and took us for a glory ride. Gary John’s intelligent and sensitive direction has humanized the story/opera of A Midsummer Night’s Dream  so that audiences can connect with it. Gary John supplied humanity– the missing link–that has been lacking from way too many opera productions.

It is very true that  the  humanity of this opera comes  from many sources , including a gorgeous set and wonderful costumes and makeup, as well as  the voicing of a  voicestra that  offers up  not just words, but sounds, sighs, hums and thrums that echo the activities and the thoughts taking place on stage.

But praise be to Gary John LaRosa for not robbing the audience of the human experience that so  frequently is  the toll exacted from us when the curtain opens on an opera.  I hope to goodness that the vitality of his direction of this lively opera will continue to energize future productions by Opera Memphis.

While I am still in the thrall of my original conversion that took place decades ago, let me offer up thanks with my praise to the cast members who enlivened their characters with not only music, but heart and soul and humanity.

It’s been my utter  joy to run through the woods with Midsummer’s  mixed-up posse for the past three weeks. Like my first opera experience in Birmingham, Alabama, I will carry this production in my heart and my head forever.

And it will be easy to do–not because the production was a  larger than life extravaganza–but because of its “human-sized” dimensions.

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