Opera coming to Steamboat

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Denver-based Central City Opera will bring its "Opera in the Rockies" tour to Steamboat Springs on Sunday. It will be a chance for opera fans to get a sneak peek at the company's season as performers sing scenes from every opera on the winter schedule -- "Tales of Hoffman," "The Student Prince," "The Juggler of Notre Dame" and "Vanessa."

It also will be a good introduction for spectators new to opera because every scene will be explained and put into context by a narrator.

"It's a nice mix of things from things that are pretty standard, like 'The Elixir of Love,' and things that are less familiar, like 'The Juggler of Notre Dame,'" said Rita Sommers, Central City Opera's associate director of education and community programs.

"The Juggler of Notre Dame" was composed by Jules Massenet, a name that will be familiar to classical music fans. The opera was popular when it first came out in 1902, but it disappeared from the stage after World War II for reasons no one can explain, Sommers said.

"The Juggler" is set in 14th century France with the story of a street performer named Jean. His story changes on the day he stops in front of the monastery to juggle.

"He offends the prior of the monastery with the baseness of his act," Sommers said.

The prior asks Jean to repent from his juggling ways and become a monk. He is easily persuaded. Jean is cold and hungry and knows that in the monastery he will have regular meals.

He stops juggling until the final scene, when the monks are offering gifts to the Virgin Mary.

"In Jean's eyes, they all have great gifts -- music, literature -- and he has nothing to give," Sommers said. "The only thing he knows is juggling, so he juggles for her."

The monks are scandalized, but the statue comes to life and blesses him as a saint and then he dies.

"It's about the power and the meaning of seemingly simple gifts," Sommers said. "Opera is an art form that a lot of people think they won't understand, but most operas are based on literature, on existing stories, or they are related to historical events. There is a broad context for viewing and understanding opera.

"Maybe you won't understand the language, but music is a sort of communicator across any barrier. It tells stories of big emotions and big happenings in the human life."

It's like Shakespeare: The language is different from what people are used to, but they get it because it's about the human experience, she said.

The tour includes a scene from the 1920s Sigmund Romberg operetta, "The Student Prince," which tells the story of a prince who goes to school in Heidelberg and pretends to be a regular student. In the process, he falls in love with a waitress named Kathy. But star-crossed lovers will as star-crossed lovers do, and when the prince is called back to his home country to reign, Kathy cannot follow.

"An operetta usually has a happy ending," Sommers said. "This is unique because it does not have a happy ending. He must assume his role and leave his true love behind."

The "Opera in the Rockies" tour happens each fall with singers visiting different parts of the Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. This year, they are focusing on Northwest Colorado.

This year's tour is in collaboration with the University of Colorado opera program and many of the singers will be upper level opera students from that school

-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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