As Martile Rowland knows, staging live opera is not for the faint of heart. The difficulties of seamlessly meshing the visual aspects of theater with musical narrative may seem staggering, but along with an experienced cast and crew, she will soon see the fruits of her labor.
Throughout the weekend of June 13-15, the Opera Theatre of the Rockies (OTR) will perform Gaetano Donizetti's opra comique The Daughter of the Regiment at Colorado College's Armstrong Hall as part of the Colorado College Summer Festival of the Arts. A uniquely rendered parody of French operatic traditions set amidst the chalets and pines of the Tyrolean Alps, Daughter tells the tale of a lost little girl who is adopted and raised by a group of soldiers.
Rowland, founder of OTR and producer of this weekend's performance, has gathered together world-class singing talent under the direction of Colorado Springs Philharmonic conductor Lawrence Leighton Smith, for the first ever local performance of the vocally challenging, 19th century French opera.
"This is a delightfully funny opera," claims Rowland. "In the past we could never have attempted it, but this year we really have fabulous singers."
These singers include the winner of the Florida Metropolitan Opera Auditions, Margaret Simpson, who will perform the title role of Marie. Opposite her, in the role of her courtier Tonio, is James Allbritten, a graduate of the prestigious opera program at Indiana University.
The talented cast is just the face of the complex clockwork that makes an opera like this tick. And none of it would be possible without the spirited collaboration of the behind-the-scenes crew.
"Opera is arguably the most dangerous art form to perform live, because so many things can go wrong," says stage director Steven LaCosse, noting the special attention that must be given to the set design and costumes in order to balance the precarious boundary between pragmatism and artistry. LaCosse made his local directing debut last season with OTR's Candide.
"Taking everything into account, this is twice as hard as conducting a symphony alone," said Lawrence Leighton Smith, pointing out that, in the event of a missed cue or a flubbed line, it is the conductor's responsibility to get the performers on stage back in sync with their musical accompaniment and dialogue. "It's important for the performers on stage to always see me with their 'third eye' while still focusing on each other and the audience," he said.
Originally commissioned for Paris opera, Donizetti wrote the original dialogue in French, and only later translated it into his native Italian. Like most American performances of this opera, OTR's production will feature English supertitles during the sung portions and deliver all spoken dialogue in English.
"We're trying to break the myth that opera is inaccessible," says Rowland. "We chose this particular opera as an acknowledgment of the influence that the military plays in our town," she says, "We think it's something our community can relate to."
It's surely not easy creating new fans in a genre where misconceptions abound. Like most highly stylistic art forms, opera tends to be ill defined by its most exuberantly precocious entrees, but Rowland promises: no Vikings, no cruel witches and no ill-fashioned headwear. Of course, there's always next year.