So one of the benefits of not having any theatre projects of my own these days has been the freedom it’s granted me to actually see other people’s work!
In the last week and half or so, I’ve caught performances of both ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ at the Jacobs School of Music and ‘Hair’ at the Department of Theatre & Drama. Not that you asked, but here’s what I thought…
First off, the best part of both these theatre-going experiences was that it was the first time I’d seen either of these shows onstage. And, in the case of ‘Cosi’, had even heard the score in full. And what I like about that is that I was able, and eager, to watch the performances with a completely open mind. It’s sort of like how, in high school, I remember a teacher saying she liked to read every book twice, if possible: the first time, giving the author the benefit of the doubt, accepting all of his devices and arguments; the second time, digging in and putting up more of a fight.
At any rate, ‘Cosi’ was definitely enjoyable, and had, in fact, some of the best singing I’d ever heard in an IU opera. The individual voices were stunning, and the ensemble quality in the many duets, trios, &c was exceptionally tight. So it was nice to listen to, yes. But more importantly, the cast I saw on closing night had the greatest diversity in terms of voice studio representation that I can ever remember.
A little explanation…
For as long as I’ve been here, and most certainly since before that, there have been what you might call “power studios” — the two or three teachers you absolutely HAVE to study with if you have any intention of being cast in an opera. It’s pretty ridiculous, actually. Because one of those “power studios” tends to produce sopranos who, more often than not, don’t come anywhere close to deserving the roles they are given. Never mind.
Thus, what was particularly gratifying about the cast I saw that night was that they hailed from a wide variety of voice studios in the school, indicating that perhaps — shocker! — more than just a couple voice teachers know what they’re doing and their students deserve some time on stage as well.
Beyond that, I found it to be a lovely production, particularly visually. My only problem with it, ultimately, is that, being still too unfamiliar with the work as a whole, I’m not completely sold on it. ‘Cosi’ has an uncharacteristically ambivalent ending, which is not, of course, a problem in itself. The problem arises when — as one friend of mine put it — the ending is “unearned.” That is, over the course of the opera, we are presented with the possibility that the two pairs of lovers are in fact mismatched. This manifested itself most clearly in a rather starkly unhappy tableau at the end. But very little of the evening was spent actually building up to that moment so that the audience could accept it at face value.
I had a similar response to ‘Hair’. While there were definitely some questionable artistic decisions made in the production overall, all I could think about afterwards was how ridiculously good everyone sounded. This isn’t a minor thing for me. I’ve worked with a lot of these kids and there are few things I enjoy more than the opportunity to hear how much they’ve grown and matured as performers in general, and as singers in particular. For many of them, I could say in all honesty that it was the best musical performance I’d ever heard from them. And if this where they’re at as college students, I can only imagine what’s in store for them in the future. So they all deserve a loud, obnoxious, and well-deserved bravo!
I also couldn’t help but be struck by the unintentional timeliness of it all. The show was selected months ago, as part of the department’s (and the broader University community’s) focus on war and peace. But the department — or the students involved in the show — could not possibly have predicted that, while they sing onstage memorializing the wild and crazy protest culture of the late sixties, the great protest of our own age would be occurring right now in New York City. It’s truly inspiring.
Black, white, yellow red — copulate in a king-size bed.
We’re the 99%.