Get ready for opera season


What: Central City Opera performs excerpts from various operas When: 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday Where: Strings' Music Festival Park Call: 879-5056 What: Emerald City Opera performs "La BohÃme" When: 7 p.m. Aug. 6 and 3 p.m. Aug. 8 Where: Steamboat Springs High School auditorium Call: 879-1996

'Tis opera season in the Yampa Valley.

No tuxedos, ball gowns or opera glasses are required. But several upcoming world-class opera performances will give Steamboat's Levi-clad audiences a chance to sample something new or revisit a popular art form that doesn't make it to this rural corner of the state too often.

Think of it like going to the movies, Emerald City Opera founder and director Keri Rusthoi said. That's what the experience was like for Italians who went to see performances in the 1600s when opera first appeared as a new source of entertainment, she said.

Costumes, sets, orchestras and full-blown stories are essential parts of an opera. And just like any blockbuster summer movie, operas include comedy, tragedy, sex, disease, violence and lots of interpretations each time they are remade and replayed. The classic stories are ones everyone relates to, Rusthoi said.

"The reason that they're around 200 years later is because they rock," Rusthoi said

Bits of classic operas, pieces of contemporary opera and the whole tragic tale of Puccini's "La BohÃme" will be on stage in Steamboat during the coming weeks.

Even though all the Steamboat shows are being sung in the foreign languages in which they originally were written, opera companies are making interpretation easy on their audiences. Central City Opera will narrate a brief synopsis before each part of its shows during a mixed bill Tuesday at String in the Mountains. And Emerald City Opera will use "surtitles" projected above the Steamboat Springs High School stage, similar to what subtitles do for a foreign film. The surtitles will translate the Italian opera "La BohÃme" into modern English during the performances Aug. 6 and 8.

There are no microphones used in opera, Rusthoi said. Singing opera is like the Olympics -- it's all about what your body can produce without steroids, especially at this altitude, she said.

"There is nothing between you and that voice. The connection is unlike any other musical," she said.

And there is a strong connection between the opera singers and the orchestra, as well.

Traditionally the singer ruled and the orchestra and the conductor followed, Rusthoi said. But throughout history, those roles have swapped, and more recently the stage director has gained an increasingly dominant role in setting the pace of live opera.

Steamboat's own Emerald City Opera, now in its second year, is performing a full-blown version of "La BohÃme," a tragic tale of starving artists in Paris who are struggling in love, poverty and the pursuit of their crafts. The cast includes lead performances by professional singers from such world-renowned opera companies as the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Opera New York and Santa Fe Opera, backed by a local chorus that already is immersed in rehearsals.

Central City Opera, the nation's fifth-oldest opera company that makes its home in a historic 1878 opera house in Central City, will perform two sets Tuesday. The early children's performance excerpts comic characters and funny scenes from full-length operas "The Magic Flute" and "The Marriage of Figaro." The evening show, "Opera la Carte," features scenes from two standards, "Tales of Hoffman" and "The Student Prince," and one modern opera, "The Juggler of Notre Dame."

"The more you know about the opera, the more you'll enjoy the show," Rusthoi said.

Rusthoi suggested two resources for the uninitiated.

The Metropolitan Opera's book of opera stories for children, "Sing Me a Story," is a great way to capture the classic opera stories at a simple level, she said, and it's available at local bookstores. For "La BohÃme," Rusthoi recommended checking out one of the two productions available for rent on video from Bud Werner Memorial Library.

"For people who haven't experienced opera, if it's good, there's no escaping the power of it. It'll get ya," Rusthoi said.


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