Is it Still an Opera if No One Dies? Or, a Music History Lesson

Abduction from the SeraglioIf you have looked at any length at this blog, follow me on Twitter, or are my friend on Facebook, you have seen an upcoming project- Mozart’s “Abduction from the Seraglio” or "Escape from the Harem". I’m very excited to be involved with this project! And you can be involved too! Head over to Kickstarter to participate! Every little bit helps! OK, enough selling, onto the story. 

Here’s a little more information about the opera:

Remember in Amadeaus, the Emperor saying to Mozart “There are so many notes! Just cut a few and it will be perfect”? Well, Joseph II reportedly did say that, and it was about “Abduction from the Seraglio”. Joseph had hired the young (26 year old!) Mozart to create an opera, which became “Abduction”. It was a great hit with audiences because of its Turkish themes, spoken dialogue and happy ending.

Wait. A happy ending? No one dies in this opera? Are you sure it is still an opera? There will be no ridiculous singing of the most beautiful aria in the entire opera when one should be gasping for breath (i.e. Tristan and Isolde)? It can’t be an opera!

Well, it is. The word opera means "work" in Italian (it is the plural of Latin opus meaning "work" or "labour") suggesting that it combines the arts of singing, acting and dancing in a staged spectacle. The original musical theatre production. In fact, the style of “Abduction”, singspiel, with spoken dialogue, is much like a musical.

There is actually a good deal of overlap between the opera and musical theatre genres. But there are a few distinctions. Opera is often performed in the language in which it was written, as opposed to the language of the audience. Musicals tend to have more spoken dialogue and more dancing. I think that’s why I like them so much! Ensemble members especially, get to have a lot of good parts in musical theatre as they get all the good dance numbers!

In opera, a performer must be a singer first, and then an actor. Musical theatre really demands that a performer develop singing, acting and dancing skills equally. Very few of us ever get there- we all have the 1 thing we are and the other 2 things we do. I am a dancer, who can sing and act. That’s why triple threats are so impressive and so rare- 3 distinct skills cultivated to a professional level, without the sacrifice of any.

I was never really into opera as a music student. I’d rather go to the orchestra. Singers clutter things up. But in 2009, I was asked to choreograph and perform with the Center City Opera Theater for the Fringe Festival, as they debuted “The Always Present Present”. This modern opera gave me a new appreciation for the art form. I realized the depth and variety of the form called “opera”. It challenged my preconceived notions of what “opera” is. Classical operas are the basis for much of the musical theatre I enjoy. They contain beautiful vocal work (even if the character is dying). Their staging requires creativity and sensitivity to history on behalf of the director, conductor/music director and choreographer. Modern operas seek to make the art form accessible to 21st century audiences. They challenge many of the constructs of classical opera. The diversity contained in the genre of “opera” is incredible.

I’m very excited to get my hands on another one. One that couldn’t be more different from “APP”. A Mozart opera. The tour de force of opera. I’ll be working with Farin Loeb, who directed “APP”. A brilliant singer in her own right, Farin is a great visionary, with the ability to break that vision down into executable parts. So it’s going to be good!

Tomorrow, I shall address the “burlesque” issue, and explain why my momma doesn’t need to be concerned. Until then, head over to NPR and read about the opera, and hear excerpts from “Amadeus” where Mozart discusses the creation of “Abduction from the Seraglio”. And while you’re there- donate. Save NPR from the federal budget cuts!