Featured image of Keller Auditorium at night.
Portland Opera visits the Cenral Library for free previews all season long.
Think of a movie where an operatic voice lifts and moves you through a scene; a death scene, love consummated, a plot-revealing monologue, a car pile-up. Heart palpitating on the waves of the aria, heightening the seriousness, inflaming the comic. Nicolas Cage as Ronny in the 1987 film Moonstruck, flipping over the kitchen table to reach and carry Loretta (played by Cher) to bed to make love. “To the Bed!” he calls out. The sound of Puccini’s score from La Bohemé elevates that day-lit Brooklyn apartment into absurd granduer.
Having never been to the Opera, Hollywood alone has provided my impression of it. It is big and extreme with button-busting lust and cleavage. It is one pro-longed climax with voluptuous sorrows and joys. Maybe the Portland Opera instructor, Nicholas Fox, knows this is the case for many of us. Because at a preview performance in March, in which the Portland Opera visited and performed at the library for a free 2017 season sneak peek, he asked the audience:
“Do you remember that movie Moonstruck? You remember when Nicolas Cage tells Cher he only loves two things,” Fox pauses. “Opera and her, [Cher].”
I saw Moonstruck as a little girl, too young to get many of the jokes but just the right age to begin dreaming of wild, tender and tortured men like Nicolas Cage. I wanted to go to the Opera then. I wanted to make my hair big like Cher’s, to make my lips deep red like the opera singers. I’d be feverishly in love with whoever I went with, and opera would make the perfect soundtrack for the glorious love. That was the first time I ever thought about going to the opera.
The library preview was the second time. It was welcome to anyone unfamiliar to opera and an educational look at this year’s season. If you are wondering if it’s something you’d like, another free and public performance is taking place today at the library. This time, La Bohemé which kicks of the 2017 season will be previewed.
Last time in March, the Portland Resident artists — Aaron Short, Kate Farrar, Ryan Thorn and Antonia Tamer — looked glamorous in the afternoon as they sat and waited to sing. Fox stood in front of a grand piano on the top floor of the library greeting us and explaining the opera season to the audience of about 50 people. The sun shone in through the atrium, and people kept looking at books in the rooms that flanked the lobby-like Collins gallery.
This season is the Season of Love. The four performances encompass “something for everyone, a buffet season of Opera,” mused Fox, who spoke to the audience as much as he spoke looking up and out into the light.
This year, La Bohemé, kicks off the year. This is the show being previewed today at the library. La Bohemé is the story of a young love between Roldolpho and Mimi. A ferocious, bohemian kind that ends too soon, set to a score by Pucini, one of the most popular scores in all of opera, according to Fox, with one of the greatest mysteries never explained in opera — why Lucia, the seamstress Roldopho falls in love with goes by Mimi.
Opera singers within twenty feet is kind of intense and a little bit surreal. The strength of their voices could be machine generated. Aaron Short was the first to sing that afternoon, as Roldolpho. Then Antonia Tamer sang as Mimi. Then together, the voices of Short and Ryan Thorn boom. I watch people on either side continue to look for books as the center atrium fills with a singular voice.
Cosi Fan Tutte, set to Mozart, has six performances in July. Translated to English, Cosi Fan Tutte means “Women Are Like That.” Fox laments and explains the sexism dismissing it as abusrd really to look at — it was another time. The plot is equally absurd, silly, and Fox says Beethoven was known to have lauded the music and believed that the characters and story didn’t deserve such a fine score.
The premise centers around two young men who brag to an older man that their fiancés are perfect — physically and spiritually perfect. The old man bets that given the chance, the women would be unfaithful and so, the opera unfolds as a test of young love. Kate Farrar sings as one of the young fiancés and it’s a theatric performance, I can envision the set, the props, the costumes of the actual show.
Man of La Mancha has performances in June and in late July and early August, contemporary composer David Lang’s double bill, The Difficulty of Crossing a Field and The Little Match Girl Passion, will have its west coast premiere.
If you can’t make it to the Opera, stay tuned for the library previews of each show.