By CEECY NUCKER
Actors perform a rehearsal of the opera “I Pagliacci” earlier this week at Ann Nicole Nelson Hall. The one-act opera will be performed by the Western Plains Opera Co. tonight and Saturday, along with “Gianni Schicchi,” at 7:30 p.m.
If you enjoy going to movies, you'll love the opera.
You will invest no more money or time, and evening dress is not required. But you will invest so much more emotion, and become so much more engaged with the live performers on stage.
The actors essentially do one long take, perfecting the telling of the story with the help of live musicians and technical assistants working together on the spot. It is even more engaging when most of the actors are local singers, as are featured in these particular performances, with only a few professionals brought in.
The Western Plains Opera Co. recognizes the value of continuing a centuries-old tradition as it presents this season's selections, "Pagliacci" (pah-lee-AH'-chee) and "Gianni Schicchi" (JAHN'-ee SKEE'-key) at Ann Nicole Nelson Hall on May 31 and June 2 at 7:30 p.m.
"There are only two performances because you need a day to recover from 'Pagliacci' and 'Schicchi,'" said WPO general manager and performer Kenneth Bowles. "These are challenging pieces, both in the scope of the arias and the depth of emotions they portray."
First on the bill is one of the classics of music literature, "Pagliacci," which translates to "Clowns." Premiering 120 years ago this month, it was the first opera to be recorded on film.
"This was Ricardo Leoncavallo's life work," Bowles said. "It was the fixation of his life."
The story is dramatic and as such completely understandable even though the lyrics are in the original Italian, with English subtitles. It opens with the character Taddeo, sung by Chad Armstrong, telling the audience that actors have feelings, too, and that the play is about real people. The actors he's referring to are a traveling troupe, coming to a small village to put on a play.
There is a love triangle between Canio, Nedda and Silvio, sung by Sam Savage, Vicki Madison and Jeff Madison respectively, which is mirrored in the play they perform. The villagers, played by Minoters, are first happy to see them arrive, then horrified when they realize the implications.
"The emphasis in this is on the soloists, but I've been working on the coordination of the ensemble," said director Joseph Levitt. "The chorus can make or break you. It's especially challenging when there is such a variety of experience among the actors. It's a boon for the newcomers. The professionals tend to raise them up."
The chorus of "Pagliacci" is a joy to watch, each an individual character, but working together as a whole. Leavitt had 30 years of singing experience himself before turning to directing. Although he has not had the opportunity to direct this previously, he has sung it professionally.
The second one-act is "Gianni Schicchi" by Puccini. This comedy is sung in English, and although set in 1299 and based on a situation from Dante's "Inferno," is peopled by very recognizable characters.
"In fact, (although) it's sometimes almost incomprehensible with eight or nine singing at a time, that's what Puccini wanted - that tumult," Levitt said.
The story is of a family fighting over the will written by Buoso Donati, portrayed in death by Richard Hagar, who seems to have left his extensive property to a monastery.
Familiar to Minot audiences are David Bradley as Betto, Jared Olson as Simone, Tim Olson as Marco and Cheryl Nilsen as Zita. Playing the crafty Schicchi, who is engaged by the family rescue the estate, is Jeff Madison. His daughter Lauretta is played by Vicki Madison, and Gennard Lombardozzi plays Rinuccio, who wants to marry her. Michael Posey has come to Minot to play Gherardo, Buoso's nephew, and Terri Rubbert of Minot State University is his wife Nella. Daniel Johnson sings both the doctor and the notary, with other family members and hangers-on played by Teresa Hargrave, Rae-Mae Owens, Jonathan Clark and Troy Guttormson.
The stage was designed by Bowles, and the costumer, creating both the 13th and 19th century outfits, is DeVera Bowles. Neil Casey, a teacher at the University of South Carolina, is the conductor of the orchestra, which has some out-of-towners joining Minot musicians, and Dianna Anderson of the MSU faculty was the rehearsal pianist.
Casey came here thanks to Adam Estes of the MSU music department, and is very happy to be here now.
"Ken Bowles called me last September for a performance in January, when it was 90 degrees in South Carolina," Casey said. "I'm glad it had to be delayed (because of the flood) until now. Besides, school's out, so I don't have to worry about that. This hall is just beautiful, very pretty with all the wood and just bright enough. It's big, but not menacing."
Reservations may be made by calling 858-3185. Prices are from $12 to $25 depending on seat selection.