National Theatre school rocks Opera – Such a treat

Ok – first things first – if you want to catch this event – you must move quickly. Menotti’s “The Old Maid and the Thief” and “Amal and the Night Visitors” are only being performed twice more this year – once on Thursday (4/18/2013) and once on Saturday (04/20/2013).

And I checked – there are still seats available, and they are well under $50 each. Which for opera at this level of expertise is a deal. So if you like opera – go. And if you’ve never been to an opera and think it a waste – now is the chance to find out if you are right or wrong. Go.

Ok – Now the review. First off – I have to say that I have a great fondness for the National Theatre School. The physical plant is just about perfect for theatre. There are 3 performing areas that I’ve been in – the Studio, the cafe, and the Theatre. The Theatre (where the operas are performed) is a classic of the old Style, with cushy red velvet seats, enormously high ceiling, good sight lines from everywhere – and wonderful acoustics. And they have lovely bathrooms. Never underestimate the importance of a nice bathroom.

The stage is large – and the stagecraft exhibited is top-notch. One can expect to be impressed – and I’ve never been disappointed. In this case – the first opera (the Old Maid and the Thief) was original written to be performed on radio – so the director literally had the stage crew build a radio station. The actors sit on the side waiting their cues; the narrator sits in a booth high above everyone’s heads, and occasionally part of the ‘sound stage’ crew move pieces of the set to create the illusion of another space. There is a wonderful sound guy in the orchestra pit doing the sound effects – rustling paper, creating the sound of rain, opening door noises. One complaint – I do wish he’d been more visible. I had to crane my neck to see what he was doing.

The singers were young, enthusiastic, and clearly in love with their ability to sing. Nothing is more likely to please me that a group of young people putting their heart and soul into the music. And sing like the world was ending they did. Just delightful. I won’t ruin the story for you – but I repeat – go. Definitely worth it.

The second Menotti opera (“Amal and the Night Visitors”) is so well-known, there’s nothing in the story to be ruined in the telling. But it is the parts of Amal and his mother that make or break this opera – and Frederique Drolet and Emma Char absolutely rock their parts. Both are young women – the shorter one (Frederique) does Amal – and almost convinces you that she is a he. Close – so close (but not quite). The part requires a wide-eyed innocence and joy that if done well, takes the audience into Amal’s world of big stars, fascinating animals, and wondrous events. And they do well. The final scene, when Amal’s mother is watching her son grow up and disappear out of her life is heart-rending – in a good way – Her pain is the pain of every parent. Joy that they are making their own way in the world, heartbreak that the cuddle at night is no longer going to happen.

And here’s the best news – these 2 incredibly talented young Canadians are doing it again – as Hansel and Gretel for next year’s Opera de Montreal season. Can’t wait to hear them a year from now – just to see how much they will have matured.

Have I convinced you to go yet? If not – why not? It’s not that expensive, it’s good solid opera with approachable story lines that make sense, it is young people friendly (my 12-year-old grand-daughter loved it) – and you don’t have to wait till the fat lady sings to know it’s over.


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