The debunker – uh, author – of the following is Dr. Heather Hunnicutt, an Assistant Professor of Music, Coordinator of Vocal Studies and Chair of the Georgetown College Music Department. Warning: Heather Winter Hunnicutt would show up at your door to literally sing the praises of opera and her wonderful students – if we let her. Come see and hear for yourself, Nov. 5-6 our Lyric Theatre Society’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers” in the College’s John L. Hill Chapel. Curtain time is 7 p.m. Tickets are $3 for students with student ID; $5 for adults (children under 10 FREE) at the door or they may be purchased in advance at The Store. For reservations, call (502) 863-8134.
Dr. Heather Hunnicutt, Assistant Professor of Music
I never cease to be amazed by how many misconceptions people have about opera! It seems most aren’t really exposed to it in the first place and then media and pop culture reinforces the myths rather than debunking them! Why is it that every time wealthy and uppity couples go out in a television show it’s always to the opera? Why are opera arias always the soundtrack for Italian food commercials?! And why, oh why, do we keep seeing that ridiculous image of a 500-pound Viking woman with horns, blonde braids and a metal chest plate every time the word ‘opera’ comes up? Oh, yes, opera is fun to make fun of – but it has so very much to offer and appeals to a wide range of people once audiences open their minds and hearts to it!
So, to help me on my quest to set the record straight, some members of our Lyric Theatre Society of Georgetown College cast for the upcoming production of The Gondoliers present some of the false pre-conceptions about our wonderful art form.
Myth-speaker Sable Floyd, a senior Vocal Music Education major from Somerset, who will perform the role of Tessa: “Opera is always in Italian and set in the past so no one can understand it!”
Only Italian? Ancient? Not understandable? Not true! While it is accurate that opera in its most recognizable form was born in Italy, Italian is only one of the many languages in which opera is performed. Some of the most popular operas in the world are in German, French, Russian, Spanish, and… ENGLISH! There are many, many operas in English that are regularly performed all throughout the world. And, when an opera is not sung in English in the United States (including LTS productions in the John L. Hill Chapel), the English translation is always projected as supertitles above the screen. Operas are set in a multitude of time periods from antiquity through contemporary situations, just like movies. Some of the more popular operas being performed are (and I am sure you’ve heard of some of these stories): Little Women, The Mighty Casey and Porgy and Bess. Opera theatres throughout the country print synopses in the programs so that you will never be lost or confused.
And, The Gondoliers is in English, both sung and spoken, and even children will have no problem following along since they get a Gondoliers coloring book and crayons along with their free admission to the show.
Scott County High alum Chuck Harris, a junior who will be seen as the Duke of Plaza-Toro, tells us what he thought before getting acquainted with opera: “Operas are a bunch of boring, tragic dramas.”
Chuck, Chuck, Chuck… well, now you know better! Actually, you are one of our go-to operatic comedians! Operas come in all forms – tragic, comic, and everything in-between. The Gondoliers is a hilarious story with silly, farcical situations by the comic duo Gilbert and Sullivan. Composer Richard Wagner used to call opera a “Gesamtkunstwerk,” which roughly translates to “a total work of art,” because there is so much going on in opera to excite all the senses: singing (solo, small ensemble and choruses), acting, dancing, orchestra, costumes, scenery, lighting effects, sound effects, props… there is truly something for everyone in this art form that seeks to synthesize all other art forms.
Hey, I’m not saying all operas are great – there are some dull ones, but I’ve seen some pretty bad movies in my day too. That doesn’t mean that all movies are terrible or boring because I saw one lame one! And, if operas were boring, would other art forms be stealing… uh… I mean, borrowing our plot lines? Rent – that was La Boheme long before they made a rock concert musical out of that idea. Miss Saigon? Actually, the gal with that story’s name is Madame Butterfly! Aida was the opera long before it was a musical, too! Hey, Chuck, I remember when you first came to Georgetown and were a self-proclaimed “opera hater.” All you needed was some exposure to the good stuff and now you can’t get enough!
Also from Scott County, and singing one of the title roles as Giuseppe, senior Daniel Ng says: “They’re all like five hours long!”
Now, Dan, I know we live in a time of ever-diminishing attention spans, but doesn’t that sound like an exaggeration to you? Oh, there are a few truly lengthy operas (namely within Wagner’s Ring Cycle), but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Most operas in reality are the length of a major motion picture. If you have the attention span for a movie, you have the attention span for an opera! Plus, operas have intermissions so you can stretch, get a snack, or powder your nose – movies don’t do that for you!
In the other title role of Marco, yet another talented Scott County graduate, Michael Cannon, presents the myth: “It’s just lots of great big women singing really high.”
Yeah, yeah… “it’s not over until the fat lady sings” right? WRONG!! Well, Michael, I have been meaning to talk to you about laying off the cheeseburgers since you’re all of 140 pounds soaking wet! And, hmmmm, by my count… there are only a couple of soprano (that’s the highest-voiced woman) roles in The Gondoliers and a couple tenors, three baritones, several mezzos (that’s solo voice-speak for the choral term ‘alto’). That old stereotype of opera singers is so far gone, it’s not even funny. Actually, here’s what the opera stars of today look like:
Russian soprano Anna Netrebko
American baritone Nathan Gunn
And, while, we’re at it, those days of “stand and sing” have gone by the wayside along with the horned Viking lady! Opera singers today have to act beautifully, dance, and more. They are true entertainers as well as excellent musicians.
Victoria Engelhardt, a junior Communications major and music minor from Paducah who plays Michael’s wife Gianetta myth-speaks: “Operas are only for rich, old, snobby people.”
Well, Victoria, I am counting on you as a person in the journalism world as well as music to help me finally set the record straight on who opera is for: EVERYBODY! As we’ve talked about above – the wide variety of plots, languages, musicals styles, time periods and more means that everyone can find something that intrigues them. Opera audiences are getting younger and younger, too! Children often really love it because they come in to the experience without thinking ahead of time that they won’t like it. And, opera is not expensive – in professional companies it is cheaper than going to a pro sporting event or a pop concert, and some seats are on par with the cost of a movie ticket. Operas in Europe are subsidized by the state and in the U.S. they are usually subsidized by corporate and private donors that help keep the quality of the show high while keeping the ticket prices low so that everyone can afford to go!
In LTS’s desire to reach as many people as possible, we have lowered our prices to make coming to see The Gondoliers affordable for the whole family: you get to see the show with full orchestra, two beautiful sets, glamorous costumes, chorus, etc, etc, etc for $5 for adults, $3 for students and children 10 and under get in free! Again, get your tickets at The Store or.