Skinny jeans and belly whoppers6/29/2016
Were those skinny jeans for opening night at the opera? Actually, yes, and a couple of young women sported black ankle-high lace-ups, bohemian. Looking around, you might think the opera was hip.
The idea had Artistic Director Michael Egel nodding in agreement.
“We’ve done a lot of outreach lately,” he said. “Our Second Stages Series — in alternative venues and in collaboration across the arts — gets the attention of younger people.”
So does the price. A ticket costs as little as $50 in a venue with no bad seats. More than that, every summer brings live, homegrown spectacles like nothing else nearby.
Audiences may erupt into applause just seeing the sets. The visiting leads have sung in opera capitals like Vienna, yet these stars move to central Iowa for the season, and they work with local singers and musicians.
For the opener, as usual, the company went with a familiar name that pops up in any Google search of “opera.” Giuseppe Verdi became famous with tragedies like “Aida” (which buries its lovers alive), but as Egel puts it, “at the age of 80, he figured it was time he had some laughs. The man went out with a farce!”
Falstaff comes from Shakespeare. A fat buffoon of a “knight,” the character was such a hit that the Bard brought him back twice, the last time in an Elizabethan rom-com. That story turned the corpulent Falstaff to a human cheese twist as he schemed to seduce not one married woman but two, both of whom were on to his game. Then in 1893, Verdi joined the fun.
In the opera, every time Falstaff topples he soaks everyone with a belly-whopper. Yet at the end, he gets back on his feet to lead a rousing chorus: “The whole world’s a joke!”
Associate Conductor Stefano Sarzani — visiting from Italy — claims that this universal quality is central to Verdi’s success. “All of life is in this opera. The music itself is making jokes, with clumsy marches and drunken trills,” he says.
Falstaff gets most of those moments, and on opening night Wayne Tigges had the right waddling pomposity, in low-slung tights. One moment he flung his paunch around like a weapon, and the next he turned femme, stroking his hair and slipping into falsetto.
Still, the first act proved most beautiful for its passages in counterpoint, largely handled by the women. Kelly Kaduce, as Mrs. Ford, delivered marvelous physical shtick in a red dress that added to the diabolic pleasure. But it was her ballistic soprano that put the scene in orbit while Megan Marino, singing mezzo as Mrs. Page, kept pace with wisecracks of her own. Before long, two other women joined in, and in the next sceen, those four downstage were set off by four men behind them. A moment like that might be eternally hip.
Overheard In The Lobby: On July 7, the Science Center of Iowa will host the latest Second Stage event, “Galileo Galilei,” a 2002 opera by Philip Glass. CV
John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com.