Opera Uncensored: Challenging the Norms
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The Sam Houston music department is straying from High School Musical’s advice to “stick to the status quo,” with an opera performance that will feature scenes from operas that did the exact opposite and challenged the norms. There will be showings on November 6 and 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Gaertner Performing Arts Center.
Director of opera Rebecca Grimes talks about the pieces that the Opera Uncensored show will feature and how the performance will not be like a typical opera.
“The whole basis for the show is to perform operas that were either censored at one point, or the literature that they’re based on was banned,” said Grimes. “It’s things you wouldn’t expect to be banned, like The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville. So what we’re looking at is music that throughout history was considered controversial, but was only considered controversial because at the time it challenged whatever the aristocracy represented. And censorship is not necessarily about something being inappropriate or lewd, but often times has more to do with political ideas, which is more what we’re talking about.”
Opera has never been known for being easy to master, and the performers have been preparing the show since September. Throughout their vigorous rehearsing and preparation, there has been the challenge of voiding off sicknesses.
Grimes talked about what risks sickness can propose for the students scheduled to perform.
“The biggest challenge has been keeping the singers well,” said Grimes. “I have had more sick students than ever, and with opera singers, if you have a cold, you can’t sing, which isn’t ideal with the performance coming up so quickly.”
However, the performers continue to persist and are excited to share their love of opera with the audience. Grimes talks about why she and other opera singers find the art form to be such a powerful way to express themselves.
“From a singing standpoint, opera is one of the most difficult things to pull off,” said Grimes. “Mostly because you have to sing beautifully and often at really extreme ranges, and you also have to sing in foreign languages, and act, while still being believable. So I think it’s really beautiful, and for me, I love the stories. There’s some really interesting storytelling going on, and this show in particular is bringing some operas out that were really controversial because they were so powerful and gut-wrenching. Some of the stories force the audience to really face some issues that we have going on.”
Grimes was inspired to do a show like this from previous experience of the success of an opera featuring particularly controversial pieces. She talked about the pieces she selected and what they mean to the students.
“College-aged kids are often drawn to things that are enigmatic and force them to discuss and weigh issues, which is part of the college experience,” said Grimes. “So as part of the process, we bring out the literature that the pieces were based on that were so controversial. It seems to be really meaningful for the students, and I think it’s important for audiences to have to see what people wrestle with.”
Other than allowing the audience to experience the same emotion and passion that the students feel when singing opera, the performers are also excited to portray important pieces of literature through great music.
“It’s amazing for them to have the opportunity to portray such wonderful literature and sing music from great composers like Mozart and Rossini, and other people that, as a music major, you want to perform pieces from these great composers,” said Grimes. “So it’s wonderful that they’re getting to do that.”
Grimes talked about how the show promises to deliver emotion, passion, and challenge its audience by presenting operas and pieces of art that were seen as inappropriate in the past. Along with all of these things, the show will also contain some entertaining scenes.
“Hopefully the audience will be able to laugh,” said Grimes. “There are some really funny parts, and I hope that they’ll come away with a better sense of where opera has been and where it’s going, and what role art plays in our human existence.”
Along with other notable composers, the show will also feature work from Beethoven, Verdi and Adams. Opera Uncensored is open to the public and tickets are available online or at the door.