Friday, February 11, 2011

Who Wears The Pants Around Here?

Girls who are boys, who like boys to be girls, who do boys like they’re girls, who do girls like they’re boys. – Blur

Sounds like a high-falutin’ comedy of errors, doesn’t it?

It’s not unusual to find trouser or breeches roles in many of today’s popular operas. This refers to the opera’s male character being sung by a female who sings in the mezzo soprano or contralto vocal range. Instead of hip-swaying crinoline skirts and bust-popping corsets, these female singers are binding their breasts and donning on trousers, men’s jackets, vests, wigs, facial hair and adapting male mannerisms.

Audience members who may or may not know this prior to curtain (surprise!), have to suspend their belief and accept the woman who’s playing the male part is a “man”, who may even be romancing a woman onstage.

So how did this all come about?

Back in mid-16th century Italy, these now “trouser roles” were written for and sung by a castrato, a young man who was castrated before puberty and as a result was able to maintain singing in such a high vocal range. At its peak in the 1720s-30s, it was estimated that 4,000 boys were castrated. All in the name of opera. Thank goodness that practice has died out. In 1861, castration for musical purposes was officially declared illegal.

Nowadays, women or men who have been trained to sing in the counter-tenor vocal range are employed in these roles.

Let’s not confuse cross-dressing roles such as Leonore in Fidelio or Gilda in Rigoletto as trouser roles. They’re just women disguised as men. True trouser roles include Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, Orpheus in Orpheus and Euridice, the title role of Xerxes, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, and VO’s current production, Sesto and Annio in La Clemenza di Tito.

LA Opera's beautiful and provocative poster for their 2005 production of Der Rosenkavalier

Vienna Classic's Der Rosenkavalier, ENO's Xerxes and Opera Atelier's Opheus & Euridice

Julie Boulianne (right) as Cherubino in VO's The Marriage of Figaro

Another La Clemenza di Tito trouser role: Norine Burgess (left) as Annio

It may be confusing at first to suspend your belief and not think girl-on-girl action, but we’ve seen examples of trouser roles on tv and film:

Linda Hunt in The Year of Living Dangerously, Tilda Swinton in Orlando and Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There

Not trouser roles:

Barbra Streisand in Yentl, Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry, Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, Angelina Jolie in Salt and Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria

Definitely not trouser roles: (women portraying men portraying women)

Kathleen Turner in Friends, Rebecca Romijn in Ugly Betty and Famke Jensen in Nip/Tuck

On the flip side, there have been skirt roles, where a man portrays a female character in opera, theatre and film, for so long that the audience accepts what they’re seeing without even a bat of an eyelash. So why the hang-up with women portraying men?

An opera patron told me last night that, at first, he was distracted by how physically attractive Krisztina Szabo was, singing the role of Sesto, Vitellia’s would-be male suitor. But after a while, any hesitation subsided and he found himself sucked into the story of La Clemenza di Tito. (even as he was hoping for an on-stage kiss between the women)

It might take an aria or two, but the audience should keep in mind that writers and composers have always played with gender and in the case of opera, it should always come down to the singing. Be it a man or a woman’s voice.

~ Ling Chan

Thursday, February 10, 2011

La Clemenza di Tito: Bloggers Final Thoughts

A big thank you to Stacey Robinsmith, Frances Sprout and Nik Belanio who joined us for Blogger Night at the Opera on opening night. (Miranda, we'll see you at Traviata!) It looks like our bloggers had a fabulous time.

Here are their thoughts on La Clemenza di Tito and of all the excitement of opening night:

A friend of mine said they do not like opera because of all the screechy women’s voices. The reality of it is that the voices are like birds swirling and swooping around one another on stage. Some soar higher than others before descending to join the other voices.

La Clemenza di Tito is a classic opera. There are no video backdrops, no extensive lighting tricks. There is a simple white stage with the simplest set. This opera is about the voices and the music from the orchestra interacting.
- Stacey Robinsmith

To read more from Stacey, click here and here.

Let me say first that this opera engaged me intellectually from the outset, even as it pulled me in musically and visually. I’m intrigued by the libretto itself, its politics – commissioned for the coronation as King of Bohemia of the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold. It makes some pretty strong statements about what is required of a truly noble leader – the opposite approach, in a way, to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro which instead condemns a ruler’s lack of nobility.

Favourite musical moments so far: Annio and Servilia’s gorgeous and touching duet which emphasizes the conflicting demands of love and duty. And Sesto’s aria beseeching Vitellia not to turn away from him, promising he will do her bidding and destroy Tito – her voice is beautifully shadowed by the woodwinds looping along the broken-chord runs.
- Frances Sprout

To read more from Frances, click here and here.

My fellow bloggers and I went backstage to see the set and props. I felt like I was walking into a 18th century ballroom from Cinderella. Everything is white and bright. (luv the sofa.)

Not as many props as the last opera, Lucia di Lammermoor. Lucia had tables of props. This time there's one table with flowers and of course, the bloody knife.(you gotta have a bloody knife in an opera.)
- Nik Belanio

To read more from Nik, click here, here and here.

Thank you Bloggers for being a part of such an amazing night! We look forward to seeing you opening night of La Traviata!

~ Ling Chan

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Divine Mozart

There's no disputing that Mozart was a masterful and influential composer. He remains one of the most beloved composers to this day. VO was excited to premiere Mozart's magnificent last opera, La Clemenza di Tito this past weekend. We were doubly excited to find out our opera patrons fell in love with it too.

Absolutely delightful. One of the best performances I have seen in the past couple of years.

I really enjoyed it. I thought it was excellent. The voices were incredible.

It all came together quite well. It was moving.

Love the music. The divine Mozart.

It was beautiful and the costumes were spectacular.

I thought the sets were great. That was one of my favourite parts.

The music direction was excellent. The chorus was fabulous.

Press play to hear what everyone had to say. Or double-click the video to see it directly on VO's Youtube channel.

Get your tickets now! Only 3 performances left! Call 604.683.0222 to speak to our box office or order online!

See you down at the theatre!

~ Ling Chan

Friday, February 4, 2011

La Clemenza di Tito: The Trailer

Here's your first look at Mozart's magnificent last opera, La Clemenza di Tito starring Wendy Nielsen, Krisztina Szabo and John Tessier.

Press play or click here to see it on VO's Youtube channel.

Video by Bombshelter Productions

Get your tickets now! Call our ticketing centre at 604.683.0222 or purchase online here.

~ Ling Chan

La Clemenza di Tito: Rehearsal

Wondering what the not often performed La Clemenza di Tito sounds like? Here a sampling of the cast rehearsing Deh, Conservate, Oh Dei, the last number in Act I:

Maestro Jonathan Darlington and cellist Ari Barnes

Maestro Jonathan Darlington

Wendy Nielsen (Vitellia), Krisztina Szabo (Sesto) & Norine Burgess (Annio)

Thomas Goerz (Publio), Norine Burgess (Annio) & Kathleen Brett (Sevillia)

To view more rehearsal clips, click here for our Youtube channel.

~ Ling Chan

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Blogging La Clemenza di Tito

Bloggers Stacey Robinsmith, Nik Belonio, Miranda Lievers and Frances Sprout will return for opening night this Saturday to take on the opera seria, La Clemenza di Tito.

The quartet will also be sharing their thoughts on the entire experience: from hobnobbing with other opera patrons, reporting from the backstage tour and listening to the exquisite bel canto singing.

Follow along the sidebar to the right for their weblinks as they blog pre-show and during the intermission.

Clockwise from top left: Stacey Robinsmith, Nik Belonio, Miranda Lievers and Frances Sprout

Don't be shy! Stop by and say hello to our friendly bloggers on opening night in the main lobby of the QET. They can't wait to meet you!

Sponsored by:

~ Ling Chan

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Shadow Of The Ninja: The Return

We are breaking protocol! In the past, we've employed one Opera Ninja to take on our dress rehearsals, but tomorrow night, we will welcome two!

Tris Hussey aka "The Shadow" will once again go undercover, reporting from the dark recesses of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre during La Clemenza di Tito. But he won't be alone!

Who could it possibly be? A newbie ninja-in-training? Or perhaps his daimyo? Or maybe The Shadow is forming an alliance with another "behind-the-scenes" warrior?

I mean, we are talking about La Clemenza di Tito here. An opera where the daughter of a deposed Emperor wants the current ruler, Tito, assassinated because he does not return her love. Who does she get to do the dirty work? A man who's helplessly in love with her and who just happens to be Tito's close friend. Things are gonna get serious!

It's no wonder we'll have 2 Opera Ninjas.

Follow Thursday night's dress rehearsal at our Twitter: @Operaninja or along the right side-bar of this blog.

The action begins at 7pm!

Sponsored by:

~ Ling Chan

re there Opera Under Thirty tickets available for 2011 programming? I'm specifically interested in seeing the upcoming opera, La Clemenza di Tito.

Hello and thanks for your question!

Our Get O.U.T.! promo for La Clemenza di Tito has been posted on our blog, Facebook and Twitter for the past couple of weeks now.

Please call our box office at 604.683.0222 for availability.

Hope to see you at La Clemenza di Tito!

Ask me anything

~ Ling Chan

Listen: Opera Speaks: Qualities Of Leadership

If you were unable to attend Opera Speaks: Qualities of Leadership at the Vancouver Public Library on January 25, we will be posting audio excerpts from our speakers this week.

Here's Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools, West Vancouver School District talking about what it takes to be a political and community leader today.

~ Ling Chan

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Interview with Chas Rader-Shieber

There's really almost nothing to which you can compare Mozart. It's on a level that is astounding. The body of work, in just short amount of time about such important matters. He really wrote about important matters all the time.

During rehearsals for La Clemenza di Tito last month, director Chas Rader-Shieber talks about the production and the genius of Mozart.

Press play, turn up the volume and enjoy.

For La Clemenza di Tito tickets, call our ticketing centre at 604.683.0222 or purchase online here.

~ Ling Chan

Interview With Krisztina Szabo & Wendy Nielsen

It's rare that the soprano's the villain. It's way fun and Mozart knows how to write for a villain. Lots of extremes of highs and lows. - Wendy Nielsen

There's a camaraderie in a Mozart cast that you don't find elsewhere. - Krisztina Szabo

Taken during rehearsals for La Clemenza di Tito, mezzo soprano Krisztina Szabo and soprano Wendy Nielsen talks about why Mozart's magnificent last opera is so compelling.

Press play, turn up the volume and enjoy.

For La Clemenza di Tito tickets, call our ticketing centre at 604.683.0222 or purchase online here.

~ Ling Chan

Interview With Jonathan Darlington

It's as if he's putting everything into a melting pot and just taking out the bare bones. It's like having an x-ray scan of all his greatest pieces. I've done this piece many times and every single time, there are certain moments, I can barely keep it together. It's distilled Mozart. Perfection.

Taken during rehearsals for La Clemenza di Tito, Maestro Jonathan Darlington plays the fortepiano and talks about his love for Mozart's magnificent last opera.

Press play, turn up the volume and enjoy.

For La Clemenza di Tito tickets, call our ticketing centre at 604.683.0222 or purchase online here.

~ Ling Chan