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28 Jan 2020

5 Deliciously Dramatic Songs from the 2020-21 Season

by Dr. Carol Anderson

It’s not very often that an opera company’s new season is book-ended with nautical tales, but Utah Opera’s 2020-21 line-up is definitely out of the ordinary. Just as a blockbuster film lives on in its memorable quotes, an opera is remembered for its unforgettable musical moments. Here are some notable highlights of the exciting operas coming to the Capitol Theatre stage next season.

WAGNER’S THE FLYING DUTCHMAN

Richard Wagner wasn’t the nicest guy that ever wrote an opera. Some of his core beliefs were, quite frankly, repugnant. Yet he managed to retool the operatic landscape with his revolutionary theories of the connection between opera and theater.

Based on eighteenth century maritime legend, Wagner’s libretto for The Flying Dutchman tells the story of a sea captain cursed to sail the oceans for all eternity, only setting foot on land once every seven years to find redemption through the love of a faithful woman. A ghost ship, a jealous rival, and superstitious villagers are a sure recipe for drama, but the story begins even before a note is sung. The famous overture hits all the high points of the story in a musical foreshadowing. From the stormy waves of swirling violins to the woodwind chorale of salvation, the tale is represented in glorious orchestral color.

JONATHAN DOVE AND APRIL DE ANGELIS’ FLIGHT

Loosely based on the story of Iranian refugee Mehran Karimi Nasseri, whose 18-year residency at Charles de Gaulle airport also inspired Stephen Spielberg’s 2004 film The Terminal, Jonathan Dove’s 1998 opera Flight is just as timely and topical as ever in the 21st century. Though the impetus for the story is deeply serious, Flight is a rarity in modern opera, a brilliant comedy along the lines of Barber of Seville or The Marriage of Figaro.

The ensemble of 10 characters meets in that all-too-familiar venue, an airport terminal. During a lengthy weather delay, the relationships between this sampling of humanity are challenged, tested, experimented with, and healed, and are finally cleared for take-off. The central figure of the Refugee is portrayed as an isolated Other, and his “otherness” is perfectly depicted through Dove’s use of the countertenor voice type, with his haunting falsetto vocal color (“distinctive timbre of the voice, a voiceprint as unique as a fingerprint.”) As the relationships reach their boiling point in Act 3, the Refugee tells his tragic story of escape and loss.

PUCCINI’S TOSCA

Tosca is probably the most well-known of the season’s offerings. It’s a verismo (a fancy Italian word for “realistic”) masterpiece, telling the story of an opera diva forced to make awful choices to save her lover from execution for treason.

The triangle that develops between Tosca, her rebel lover Mario, and the ruthless police chief Scarpia, whose lust for Tosca is overpowering, builds to a devastating climax. Scarpia’s monologue of desire is shockingly juxtaposed against a celebratory mass in the cathedral, providing the thrilling climax for Act I.

One of favorite operas demands a second example. The great diva Maria Callas said once “I don’t need the money, dear. I work for art,” and her operatic alter ego, Floria Tosca, would agree. In her famous 2nd-act aria, Tosca asks God why she is being punished when all she ever did was try and live a good life, filled with art and love. I would make the case for this version of “Vissi d’arte,” while not technically perfect, being the G.O.A.T. Fight me.

GILBERT AND SULLIVAN’S THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE

Gilbert and Sullivan’s sparkling comedy of English manners versus Pirate shenanigans is a frothy delight from top to tail. I will submit the Pirate King’s rollicking ditty as, maybe not the height of drama, but certainly the height of G&S tunefulness. You’ll definitely leave the theatre with this chorus as your earworm!

BONUS ARIA: “I AM THE VERY MODEL OF A MODERN MAJOR GENERAL” FROM THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE

Speaking of earworms, we can’t bring up this swashbuckling adventure without this tongue-twister of an aria that you’re sure to recognize:

You won’t want to miss all this delightful drama. Watch it happen live, and subscribe to the opera.

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