Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 8:28 am
You think of sopranos and an award-winning television drama comes to mind. You don’t know the Barber of Seville from Don Giovanni or a falsetto from an aria. You are not tuned into the world of opera.
But maybe you’re more familiar with opera than you think. If you’ve watched a Looney Tune or an award-winning movie, chances are, you’re familiar with the age-old art form. Both Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse cavorted through cartoons to the strains of some of the best-known opera. It can be heard in a number of films, “Philadelphia” and “Moonstruck,” to name two.
“You’ve been listening to it all your life,” said Scott Williamson, general and artistic director of Opera Roanoke.
Williamson, a tenor, and his wife, soprano Amy Cofield, both of whom have long resumes in the genre, will be out to prove that when they bring opera to the lake on Sept. 5. Opera 101, a kind of primer/performance which will be held at Trinity Ecumenical Parish in Moneta, will feature a multi-media presentation, including slides and videos showing opera from cartoons, commercials and movies. Interspersed will be performances by Williamson, Cofield and several Opera Roanoke apprentices. Tickets are $15 apiece.
“We’ll offer a variety of the favorites — Mozart, Verdi, familiar names and music that will be familiar to many and some that might not be,” Williamson said.
Both he and SML arts supporter, author and Opera Roanoke board member Don Fink want SML-area residents to give the art form they love a chance by helping familiarize them with the music and taking the mystery out of the whole opera experience.
Opera, which combines music, drama, singing, and, sometimes, dancing, has a reputation for being intimidating and hard to follow with its unfamiliar stories and language barrier, they admitted. It’s often viewed as elitist and the domain of the upper class.
“It’s a specialized art form, sometimes in foreign language,” Fink said. “Having a story not all that familiar can make people a little bit intimidated, but that can be rectified by having super titles that translate into English.”
Those for whom opera evokes images of stuffy patrons in fancy attire who are required to follow strict rules of behavior should know that things have changed.
“Etiquette will be one of the myths we will try to debunk during the course of the evening,” Williamson said. “Etiquette has changed — it’s more basic etiquette like you would find at any performance.”
And, Williamson added, there’s no dress code; you’re much more likely to see jeans and T-shirts at an opera performance than long gowns and gloves.
Besides sharing music and information, Williamson and Fink said they hope to tap into the Smith Mountain Lake community for support.
“SML is one of the most vital regions in the Blue Ridge,” Williamson said. “We haven’t reached out to SML as much as we should have, and we haven’t developed an audience and group of friends as large as we would have liked.”
Smith Mountain Lake is a good fit, he added, because many residents have relocated here from major cultural centers where opera was among the offerings.
“There’s a misconception that small regional companies are not as vibrant or as high quality as those in big cities, but we consistently hear from our patrons that what we do is just as good, if not better,” said Williamson, who is in his fifth year as head of Opera Roanoke. “We get young artists at the start of their careers; they’re fresh, young and eager.”
Fink, whose sister was an opera singer, said he would like to see the formation of a Friends of Opera Roanoke group to offer continual support to the organization. Reaching out to both virtuosos and neophytes is a way to start, he said. Several lake residents serve on the Opera Roanoke board, and the organization is the newest affiliate member of the Smith Mountain Arts Council.
Is there a chance full-blown opera will ever be performed at Smith Mountain Lake?
Besides the cost, the technical challenges required for a full production — the size of the stage and orchestra pit, for example — would make it difficult, but, “It’s not outside the realm of possibilities,” Williamson said.
In the meantime, patrons can make the trip to Jefferson Center, where Opera Roanoke performs, armed with a new familiarity with the art form and what it offers, thanks to Opera 101.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind-event that lake folks should not miss,” Fink said. “It’s going to be a concert with informative pieces in presentation for everybody, including people who are already familiar with opera, and wonderful music by Scott and Amy and the apprentice artists. We’ll have a good evening.”