Sing, sing, sing
The Cultural Center hosts an opera marathon.
There are operas that last four hours, but you won’t hear them Sunday 28 at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Day of Opera, in its third year. The presenters were told to perform operas written either before Mozart’s time or during the 20th century, and those composers tended to value concision more so than Wagner and Verdi. The all-afternoon event serves as a showcase of the city’s young vocal talent, with hordes of the preening divas-in-waiting singing throughout the center. And while they may have been waiting around for this moment, the fact that the center limits performances to 30 minutes means you can listen to opera in an intimate setting without wondering when the intermission will arrive.
Among the first to perform will be the Opera Company, the young company founded by Northwestern graduate Oliver Camacho. The enthusiastic Camacho practically leaps out of the phone as he gushes about a “find,” male soprano Gregory Peebles. That vocal type is exceedingly rare, and Camacho’s pretty high on Peebles’s talent. Peebles will take part in the final scene from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at 1:30. He’ll sing Dido’s famous aria “When I am Laid in Earth,” a shattering scene that ends moments before Dido kills herself as Aeneas leaves her.
Yes, Dido will be played by a man, as will every other role in that scene. “I see it as a parable against gay promiscuous sex,” Camacho says. He quickly hedges, “Or, at least as a parable against falling in love with a straight guy.” Camacho’s interpretation of that final scene will be of a straight Aeneas leaving a gay Dido, and it’s so crazy it just might work. (He’d hoped to have a drag queen in his third portion of the afternoon, the last scene of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea, but was told he was “getting a little too gay.”)
Camacho’s other radical notion is of a medley of Handel arias playing out on a fashion show’s runway. Four sopranos—including Greer Davis-Brown, a gifted Roosevelt student who turned in a vivacious Pamina in the Cultural Center’s Magic Flute last summer—will sing a single Handel aria each. “Back in the time of Baroque opera, these operas were written with the singers in mind,” says Camacho, so he’s having them flaunt it. “Most of the operas [of Handel’s time] you can relate to the trashy movies Hollywood puts out that are just star vehicles,” he says. For all his chutzpah, Camacho’s done his musical homework and worked to program a series of arias that were carefully chosen. He’s aiming for specifically calibrated surprise.
Brian von Rueden, of the Millennium Chamber Players, also has some shocks for his audience, but they stem as much from the music as they do the context in which they are sung. Von Rueden traveled to Italy in 2001 and took part in a production of Domenico Cimarosa’s L’infedeltà fedele, a comic opera about faithless lovers and other romantic confusions. The MCP gave the piece its American premiere in May, and is reprising it here.
“This was our musicological experiment,” von Rueden explains. He tried to get the score from an Italian library when the MCP decided to perform L’infedeltà fedele, but was rebuffed. Apparently, a scholar had walked off with it, never to be heard from again. He and Robert Katkov-Treviño, MCP’s conductor, did have a score for the vocal parts with keyboard accompaniment, however. “That had reasonable instrumental cues in it, so we went through and reorchestrated it,” von Rueden says, and effectively they made their own version of Cimarosa’s work, while trying to hew as closely to his intentions as they could.
That enterprising spirit envelops all the companies performing at the Day of Opera. Their boards of directors aren’t populated with millionaires who can cut them checks at will, but the singers find ways to put on shows any way they can.
The Day of Opera takes place Sunday 28.