Exotic and erupting with beauty6/24/2015
For one show this year, Des Moines Metro Opera brought in a woman from the Czech Embassy in Chicago. She spent a week teaching the cast her language. For another, performers learned to juggle opera Italian and cowboy lingo: “Howdy, ragazzi!” And for the third, by Mozart, the design team created a wild new set, “fantastical,” according to Artistic Director Michael Egel.
“All in all, it’s our most exotic season,” Egel said.
There’s also a bonus opera, a rare thing in the company’s 42-year history. In mid-July, as the Indianola performances near their end, the Des Moines Botanical Center will host “Rapaccini’s Daughter.” The setting seems perfect for a story of a botanist gone mad, and it is an exciting new approach to DMMO outreach.
That outreach, says Egel, extends both ways.
“We always want to bring in new audiences, but then, too, we want to share our great city with our visitors,” he said.
This year, the visitors include celebrated singers, still young. The two leads in the Mozart will perform next at the New York Met. But stars like that are just the tip of an out-of-town iceberg.
“Counting singers and musicians, creative staff and technical, last year we had people from 66 Iowa counties, 34 other states and four foreign countries,” Egel said
This summer, culture shock seems to be the theme. In “The Abduction from the Seraglio,” Mozart wrote about a city then called Constantinople, now Istanbul, while he was living in Vienna (the opera is featured in the Oscar-winner “Amadeus”). Naturally the songs have English supertitles — always handled well in the Simpson College space — but the occasional dialog will be in English, too. Such bilingual production is typical nowadays, but in this lineup it fits neatly indeed.
Then there are the cowboys speaking Italian in “The Girl of the Golden West.” The composer, Puccini, belongs on opera’s Mount Rushmore, but when he won his first American commission, he tried something new. The result, said Egel, was a gift to the artform. “It’s the only Western in the whole repertory.”
The third major show is “Jenufa,” the one in Czech. Adapted from a European folktale, it has a language almost never used and a little known composer named Leos Janacek. This year’s cutting-edge selection (as such, part of the company mission), “Jenufa” features music Egel calls “like nothing you’ve heard before, erupting into moments of great beauty.” Sketches of the set suggest the designs of M.C. Escher, fascinating yet perilous.
“Companies in cities our size don’t usually offer so many new approaches and challenges,” says Egel.
To help audiences meet those challenges, the DMMO has again arranged brief informational talks before every show. So, too, if opera-goers feel like getting fancy, shows will be preceded by theme dinners. Before “Seraglio,” why not a Turkish menu — just right for an exotic season?
Overheard in the Lobby: July will have new shows from both Des Moines Young Artists and Rising Phoenix Theater. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.