Say what they will about hipsters (though no self-respecting hipster would admit to being one), but we tend to encourage creativity and have many varied interests. Sure, some of those interests include spending obscene amounts of time on hair, but also include art and music. These twenty-to-thirty-something’s are the people who make First Friday a large, citywide event. They are also the people supporting Denver’s numerous music venues and local fashion shows. Hell, I’ve seen them fill the Hi-Dive for a sock-puppet show.
Yet, I constantly hear people complain that there isn’t enough to do here in Denver. With this in mind, I meticulously spiked my faux-hawk, laced up my black Chuck Taylor’s, and headed off to the opera.
Tired of being known as a cow town, Denver has built a world-class performing arts center that includes the brand new Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
The rich blue-hairs may think that this has all been done for them, but I contend it was done for you. All demographic studies show Denver’s population getting younger as the aforementioned youthful creative types move here. Old people only have so many years of opera patronage left in them, and Opera Colorado’s interest in attracting a younger audience is apparent in the president’s open letter posted on the website. The letter tries to make opera sound appealing, but comes off like a high school geometry teacher admonishing students that math is way more awesome than they think.
Given a chance, generations X and Y will find opera a lot more accessible than they might believe. Opera is an inherently impressive production. It combines aspects of symphony with theater and singing; and they do it live. Add to that larger than life characters, storylines, and sets, it becomes a sensory smorgasbord.
Since this is the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, Opera Colorado has chosen to celebrate by putting on a production of his “Abduction from the Seraglio.”
“Abduction” has received mixed reviews ever since it premiered in 1782. It was unusual, in that it did not adhere to the Italian opera traditions that were the rule at the time. The lyrics are in German, set to Turkish music, and the story combines comedy and tragedy. It is this lack of unified theme that has drawn the most criticism. However, it is a beautiful piece, with a story that encompasses love lost, love that can never be, and absolution, while managing to keep a comedic air.
“Abduction from the Seraglio” is about Belmonte, who has come to rescue his love, Konstanze, from a Turkish harem. Konstanze was kidnapped with her servant Blonde, as well as Belmonte’s servant Pedrillo, who happens to be Blonde’s suitor. That was a mouthful. All of these kidnappings were done by the very wealthy Turk, Pasha Salim, whose lifestyle and moxie I admire. Salim has chosen Konstanze as the jewel of his harem and given Blonde to his henchman and enforcer Osmin who feels quite murderously towards Pedrillo. Belmonte enters the harem in disguise and attempts to remove Konstanze, Blonde, and Pedrillo from the clutches of Salim, under the watchful eye of Osmin. It’s pretty straightforward once you get the gist of it.
Opera Colorado has chosen to update “Abduction” by moving the harem into the 1920’s and putting it on the Orient Express. In creating the train, designer Allen Moyer has maintained the tradition of grandiose opera sets. The interior of the Orient Express is full of opulent deco furnishings and fixtures, while the backdrop displays an ethereal fog through the windows, making it look as if the train is moving through moonlit clouds. However, it is the actual movement of the train that extracted gasps from the audience every time the action and focus shifted to a different car. I think this is the closest live theater can get to CGI.
The libretto (written text of the opera) allows for liberal interpretation of the action, permitting one production to be widely different from another. Director James Robinson, focused on the comedic aspects of “Abduction,” and incorporated a lot of slapstick humor. The most laughs were garnered by crowd favorite, Osmin, who was portrayed wonderfully by Dale Travis. His booming baritone voice was exactly what the part called for, while his acting provided the perfect amount of menace and comedic foil.
My ears may have still have been ringing from the previous night’s Pinback show, but I found the sound and acoustics to be excellent. Maria Kanyova (Konstanze) had a beautiful soprano voice, with a range and power that carried better than most of the other voices. The orchestra, conducted by Scott Terrell, sounded as good as any I have heard, but admittedly, I’m no expert… yet.
Due to creative and thoughtful direction, some of the most powerful moments happened outside the main focus of the action. There is a point where the potential escapee’s have all been captured and locked into two separate cars to await execution. Belmonte sings to Konstanze in deep sorrow for the destruction he feels he has brought onto her. It is an emotional scene, but it is Pedrillo and Blonde, locked in another car, that draws the eye. It is the simple and realistic actions of a couple spending their last moments together that captures all of the emotion inherent in this aria.
If you are a person who feels that there isn’t enough to do in Denver, or if going to puppet shows and joining the kickball league doesn’t leave you fulfilled, then I submit you try a night at the opera. You can get a ticket for twenty-two bucks, which is less than you paid to go see Ween. The storylines are filled with love, sex, murder, and heartbreak; set to some of the finest music ever created by a tormented spendthrift with a substance abuse problem.
Guys are always doing things to appease their dates or girlfriends, like going to see the latest piece of shit thrown on the screen by Julia Roberts. I am offering you a chance to have a better time for yourself, while appeasing the clothes right off of her. Women will jump at any opportunity to get dressed up and go out looking like a princess. Meanwhile, frequent intermissions and bars located every twenty feet make it easy for those of us who have a problem sitting still or staying sober for any length of time. An opera date will absolve you from having to go to Mystic Pizza II, or sitting through Sex and the City on DVD.
Opera Colorado’s production of “Abduction from the Seraglio” is thoroughly enjoyable, even to someone like me who thinks he may have seen an opera once when he was a kid. The story maintains relevance even today, hundreds of years after it was first written. The atmosphere in the opera house is not as stifling as you might think. Actually, some of these rich old people dress pretty outlandish, though you won’t feel ostracized if you choose not to doll yourself up. They built this thing for you, so stop complaining that there isn’t enough variety and go check it out. Performances are May 2, 5, and 7th. You can get tickets or information from www.operacolorado.org.