Opera Tells Classic Tale with a Twist
Music, Opera, University Center for the Arts | March 23, 2015
Greek adventure with cyberpunk flare
By Lauren Scott
The Ralph Opera Center takes on a futuristic performance of Mozart’s Idomeneo this spring. Considered the first of Mozart’s “great operas,” Idomeneo follows the ancient story of the King of Crete, who chooses to follow Agamemnon to lay siege to the city of Troy, on his journey to save his son while appeasing the gods for saving his life. The opera includes appearances by the Greek god, Neptune, as well as a vengeful sea monster.
Idomeneo was created by Mozart and librettist Giambattista Varesco to be used in a court carnival for the Elector of Bavania in 1781. It is described as an ‘opera seria,’ which refers to the noble and serious styling of Italian opera. However, Idomeneo differs slightly from the traditional opera seria style, incorporating more musical continuity and ensemble writing, creating a nice blend between the Italian and French styles of opera.
CSU’s production puts a different spin on this classic opera. The piece is set in an undefined time period and includes elements of Ancient Greece alongside edgier futuristic/post-apocalyptic elements of Ancient Greece alongside edgier futuristic/post-apocalyptic elements shown through projections, costuming, and set design. Most exciting is that the performance marks the first use of projections, designed by CSU’s Price Johnston and Andy Killion, in a CSU opera production. The projections are used to provide digital content for all seven locations the score calls for, as well as to provide fluidity between scenes.
Setting the Scene
The set design is one of the many technical areas which explored new techniques to bring this opera to life. The set design was inspired by the work of Adolph Appia, a Swiss architect, stage designer, and theorist of stage lighting and décor. The intent for all his work was not to necessarily achieve pictorial realism, but to create a believable mood for each scene, by focusing primarily on painted scenery (vertical), spatial arrangement (floor), the actor, and the light.
To create this mood and to offset the use of multi-media, the scenic design team faced three major challenges: controlling stray light, keeping the floor as shiny as possible, and utilizing a short props list. To control stray light from disrupting the projections work, set designer Roger Hanna opted for an all-black floor and chose to set up the scenic pieces considerably in front of the projection screens. The black floor, however, needed to look elegant without detracting from attention to the projections, so scenic artist Lauren Coghlan, came up with a solution. Described as a two-step process, Coghlan had to apply a base coat and then add on a marine paint that takes three whole days to dry. Once dry, however, the paint is immensely strong and shiny, creating the elegant, yet durable surface for which Idomeneo calls.
“The feel of this production, with the projections and the sea, involves a lot of black and blue colors,” said Mike Solo, publicity and marketing manager for the University Center for the Arts. “To offset the innovative use of multi-media, the simple yet elegant feel of the set, lighting, and props avoid a more elaborate look that works for some other styles of productions – it’s a better match for this unique aesthetic.”
The props list called for some very special attention because of two very unique props; busts of two of the characters, which have been double cast for CSU’s production. Coghlan led this project, as well, using dental alginate (the stuff that dentists use) to make copies of the four actor’s faces. The second step in this process will be for her to carve the busts and then marbleize them.
Another factor contributing to the mood on stage are the costumes. CSU’s costume department, led by Janelle Sutton, will also unveil never-before-seen designs. Idomeneo is the first opera at CSU to showcase a futuristic/cyberpunk approach to costume design. Such design requires understanding and utilization of fabric manipulation, fantastical wig building and design, acid wash jean techniques, and fabric painting and distressing – all the things you’d expect in a cyber-punk world.
“It is fun to be a part of a design team to create a product that is revolutionary to this opera program,” said Sutton.
CSU’s cyberpunk production of Mozart’s Idomeneo, directed by Tiffany Blake and conducted by Wes Kenney, Steven Aguiló-Arbues, and graduate student Noelle Bauman runs Thursday, Mar. 26 through Saturday, Mar. 28 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Mar. 29 at 2 p.m. in the Griffin Concert Hall at the University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington Street. Audiences will witness a new, edgy take on one of Mozart’s greatest operas. With sea monsters, Greek gods, adventure, and love stories, CSU’s production of Idomeneo will be one you won’t want to miss.
About the Charles and Reta Ralph Opera Center
The Ralph Opera Center, housed at the state-of-the-art University Center for the Arts, is named in honor of Charles and Reta Ralph in recognition of their generous and continuing support of opera at Colorado State University. The Ralph’s benevolence provides programmatic support and professional development opportunities, as well as a broad scholarship support system for students studying vocal performance. Auditions for the Ralph Opera Center are held at the beginning of each semester and are open to all CSU students. Read more.
The Ralph Opera Center performs two fully staged productions with orchestra each semester, as well as multiple opera scenes programs, spanning the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern eras. Past presentations include: Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, Benjamin Brittin’s The Rape of Lucretia, Verdi’s Falstaff, Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Mozart’s Magic Flute, Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Gondoliers, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, Domenico Cimarosa’s Il segreto matrimonio, Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, Gilbert & Sullivan’s Patience, Massenet’s Cendrillon, and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, and Suor Angelica.
About Tiffany Blake, Stage Director
Praised by Opera News Online for her “…truly virtuoso performance….immaculate tone, good support and breath to spare,” soprano, Dr. Tiffany Blake, received her DMA in Vocal Performance with a minor in Opera Stage Direction from the Eastman School of Music, where she also earned her MM and was awarded the prestigious Performer’s Certificate. She received her BA from Sonoma State University in Northern California. In 2009 Dr. Blake was one of twelve interns chosen from applicants across the U.S. and Canada to participate in the prestigious NATS Internship Program. She currently serves as director of the Ralph Opera Center at CSU. Read more.
About Wes Kenney, Conductor
The 2007 Grand Prize Winner of the Varna (Bulgaria) International Conducting Competition, Wes Kenney is now in his tenth season as Music Director of the Fort Collins (Colorado) Symphony. Named in 2004 to an additional post as Music Director of Opera Fort Collins, he currently conducts three professional operatic productions as well as numerous orchestra concerts and dance performances each season throughout Northern Colorado. Read more.
About Steven Aguiló-Arbues, Conductor
Steven Aguiló-Arbues enjoys his various roles as a vocal coach, recitalist, répétiteur, and conductor. He has performed as a solo and collaborative pianist throughout Spain, Italy, Peru and the United States, and has worked on many opera productions, including Die Zauberflöte, Madama Butterfly, Don Giovanni, Dialogues des Carmélites, Rigoletto, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Carmen, and others. He has coached singers who have won regional and national finalist titles in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions as well as hired by opera companies throughout the world. Read more.
About Noelle Bauman, Conductor
Noelle Bauman is a graduate student at Colorado State University, earning her Master’s degree in conducting with Maestro Wes Kenney. She received her undergraduate degree in music education from CSU in 2012. Noelle taught elementary music in Fruita, CO, where she began an elementary percussion ensemble dedicated to the community through service learning. Currently, she is the Graduate Assistant Conductor of the CSU Symphony Orchestra. The communities of Fort Collins and the CSU Music Department have been an integral aspect of Noelle’s development and progression as a musician.