Lyrical Vengeance

By Christie Franke, Red Pulse Writer

It’s opera season, guys! Once again, it’s time for that grandiose, often melodramatic art form that has delighted audiences for centuries. This season is a good one for the Utah Opera8212;it’s got four fantastic productions selected for our enjoyment. The games begin with the Puccini classic, “Madame Butterfly,” continue with the American “Regina,” and then turn sharply away from the tragic to Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale.”

The opening opera, “Madame Butterfly,” is yet another one of those famous pieces that everyone’s heard of, no matter what. Put very bluntly, “Madame Butterfly” is about cultural misunderstandings taken to the extreme. The American naval officer, Pinkerton, takes a “temporary” wife named Cio-Cio-San (aka Butterfly), who gives up everything for his sake. As it happens, Pinkerton takes off with the navy and leaves Butterfly faithfully awaiting his return8212;and pregnant with their son. Several years go by in which everybody warns Butterfly that Pinkerton isn’t coming back…and then he comes back. Unfortunately, he brings his American wife with him, and it all goes to pot fairly quickly from there.

When it first premiered in Milan in 1904, “Madame Butterfly” was actually very poorly received. Puccini had to revise the opera by making it three acts instead of the original two. It then went on to be a major success worldwide, despite what some critics have to say about it being racist toward the Japanese and anti-American (the libretto is in Italian, and it was shown largely to European audiences in the wake of the Spanish-American War). Whatever it is, “Madame Butterfly” is still one of the most popular operas around today, and its performances are still going strong. It plays here at the Capitol Theatre this month, starting Oct. 18 and ending the 26.

After this grand opening comes an American opera, Marc Blitzstein’s “Regina.” This opera was written in 1949, and is distinctly American in sound8212;not only does it wax lyrical as all opera should, but it incorporates spirituals, ragtime, blues and traditional Dixieland; it’s set in the South, if the musical styles hadn’t already made you guess. Regina Giddens is so set on wealth that she schemes and sneaks and double-crosses everyone in her path until at last she’s as rich as Croesus and as lonely as a walled-up nun. When her husband opposes her business ventures, she denies him his heart medication so that he dies of a heart attack, which causes her daughter to abandon her. It’s the classic story of a family torn apart by greed. Pretty gnarly story. See it in January 2009.

And then there is Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” which is possibly the most famous opera of all time. First staged in 1785 in Vienna, “Figaro” was Mozart’s extremely cheerful, extremely unique way of smashing current operatic standards into itty-bitty pieces and stomping on them. First of all, the choice of subject matter was enough to have the monarchy looking askance at it8212;the play of the same name, by Beaumarchais, was banned in France for causing anger between the classes. Any play that caused social unrest and fistfights in the pit couldn’t be translated into opera, right? Unfortunately for the European monarchs (especially those in France), art tends to ignore politics and do what it wants to. Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, removed all of the political overtones and presented the finished script to Emperor Joseph II for approval before Mozart even started writing the music. This is not to say that there are no politics in the opera at all8212;far from it. Figaro’s more incendiary speeches were cut, but certainly there were nobles sitting in Vienna’s opera house with their jaws hitting the floor, scandalized that Figaro would dare to oppose the Count’s attempts to sleep with Susannah.

Arguably, it is the underhanded politics that make this opera such a scream. The servants take over the house and do everything in their power to get into the count’s way. Add to that a pining but mischievous countess, a doctor with a personal vendetta, a bona fide dirty old lady and a teenager who can hardly keep his pants on around the ladies, and you’ve got a good time before the main characters have even begun plotting against their master. “Figaro” is about four hours long and you’ll spend all of it in hysterics. Contrary to some operas, it doesn’t get boring in the last acts8212;if anything, it gets funnier. It’s a fun, lighthearted opera and it’s one of those whose music is so entwined in Western culture that you’ll be recognizing pieces all over the place. “Figaro” comes to Capitol Theatre in March of 2009.

Last, but far from least, comes Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” a tale of love and romance and young people driving a rich old uncle up the wall. Don Pasquale is old and has no heir, so he tries to bully his nephew into an arranged marriage. Ernesto, in love with the lovely Norina, isn’t having any of it, and so the games begin. A little disinheriting here, a touch of fraud there…all in a day’s work in comic opera. Donizetti was known in his day for his comedies, which is deeply ironic considering that today he’s best known for the tragedy “Lucia di Lammermoor” (which is actually hilarious if you have a very warped sense of humor). Luckily we’re being treated to one of these comedies, although we do have to wait until next May for it.

Traditionally the opera is set in Rome, but the Utah Opera is doing things a little differently this time around8212;it’s setting “Don Pasquale” in the Wild West, which will make the fact that the characters are singing opera even more hilarious.

One last thing8212;please remember that opera was not always quite as highbrow as it seems today. These shows are filled with as many ripping good yarns as a TV series. Better even, because they’ve lasted several hundred years instead of a few episodes. So take a chance and explore the world of opera. It’s melodramatic, loud, conniving, mischievous, naughty, gory, sexy and vengeful.

See for yourselves.

For more information, call (801) 533-NOTE (533-6683) and ask for a student discount, or visit

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