Unwinding with Opera under the Stars

Music’s power to affect people is immense yet deeply personal. Listening to music can be therapeutic, introspective or even like having a non-judgmental companion on a soul-searching road trip.

Combined with some good storytelling, music is reminiscent of a warm hug, or a cozy night spent with a hot drink and warm blankets. An opera is no different; it can whisk you away to a fantasy world infused with drama and musical abandon. UBCO’s faculty of creative and critical studies partnered with Opera Kelowna to do just that and presented “Opera Under the Stars” on Thursday, August 12.

The event was live-streamed on Unicorns.Live, UBCO’s secure streaming website. Due to the unfortunate smog, the opera was staged from Mary Irwin Theatre at The Rotary Centre for Arts instead of the annual event’s usual staging place, UBCO’s Central courtyard.

The opera was hosted by Rosemary Thomson, artistic director of Opera Kelowna, and featured performances by artists Clarence Frazer (baritone), Taylor Pardell (soprano), Stephanie Tritchew (mezzo-soprano), Martin Renner Wallace (tenor) and pianist Jennifer Tung. All performers were clad in masks, but that didn’t interfere with their glorious voices as they brought a socially distanced opera to viewers’ screens.

The opera consisted of four sets, some of which were based on well-known and celebrated performances and others of which turned out to be “hidden delights,” as was advertised on their website. The opening set was based on renowned French composer Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. The first selection featured Juliette’s aria (a self-contained piece) Je veux vivre, where she sings about the joys of youth and for a brief moment, the diminishing of that joy as youth fades. Though I could not understand the words due to the language barrier, the emotions conveyed through the music were infectious and enough to boost my jet-lagged and worn-out spirits.

This selection was followed by the famous balcony scene and featured the equally famous duet O nuit divine where Romeo and Juliette declare their undying love for each other. The next selection featured Stephano, a character of Gounod’s creation, in a trouser-role – a refreshing departure in 1867 from the usual cross-gender roles found in Shakespeare plays. Stephano, Romeo’s page, searches for him and mockingly informs Juliette’s family of how she is going to be snatched away in love.

The fourth and final selection of the set features Romeo and Juliette’s wedding ceremony officiated by Frére Laurent. The set ended on a happy note, an innovative departure from the infamously tragic ending of the original play.

The next set was based on the opera The Barber of Seville by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. It featured the story of Rosina, a rich pupil who has fallen in love with a mystery man and beckons to the fairies to bring her light. This soothing composition was the perfect way to unwind on a lazy, slightly gloomy Thursday evening.

This was followed by the next set, based on the opera Così fan tutte by Mozart. The opera presented two sisters who asked the winds to be gentle as boats took their spouses to war. This opera featured over-the-top characters who got themselves intertwined in a love triangle as the spouses of the sisters pretended to be suitors to test the loyalty of their betrothed.

The last and final set of the opera was a hidden gem, of sorts. It told the classic tale of betrayal in love as the daughter of a court justice finds herself heartbroken after facing the betrayal of her love at the hands of a powerful duke.

Opera transcends the barriers of language and forms connections through music and pure emotion. As the latest iteration of Opera Under the Stars proved to be a success, hopefully UBCO will continue this beautiful tradition for years to come.