Turning opera singers into actors | Guest commentary
May 9, 2012 · Updated 1:23 PM
This week I got to view another perspective of the magical work of theater.
I was offered the special opportunity of seeing The Seattle Opera’s first ever simulcast opera— Madama Butterfly — which was broadcast live from opening night at McCaw Hall onto a huge screen for additional viewers in the Key Arena!
Madama Butterfly is about a young Japanese girl named Butterfly who is only 15 years old and is already getting married to an American man who is in Japan. Little does she know that the man, whose name was Pinkerton, was planning all along to leave her eventually and go find another wife back in America.
Well, when Pinkerton leaves, Butterfly is heartbroken and all she is left with is one of her only friends who is her maid Suzuki and her child, whom she named ‘Sorrow’, until her so-called true love returns.
Pinkerton did return and with him he brought his American wife and intended to bring Sorrow home to America with them and leave Butterfly in Japan. This eventually does happen, but not without the very common tragedy in opera — death. Butterfly gives way to all the horror, sadness, and pain she is feeling and kills herself. This is not at all uncommon for opera if you have noticed.
Another reason operas are alike is how they all have changed over the years. Operas used to be all about the singing. A person used to come out to the middle of the stage and sing a song about a story — just sing it, that’s all.
Now the whole story-telling element is being put in to play by having the singers increase their acting and showing more emotions in the song. All of this really started up in the last twenty years. This is because of the beginning of filmed operas.
In the 70s the Metropolitan Opera began filming operas which needed more focus on acting to keep the audience’s attention. This is because most of us want to see a story and not just hear the music. We want to know what is happening because the audience most likely won’t know how to speak Italian or French or German since we live in America and when we see people act it out you can get the general picture of what they are trying to say even if you can’t understand what they said.
I asked Seattle Opera’s Chorus Master Beth Kirchhoff the other day how much more important has the acting become in opera. She said that once operas were produced on television it changed a whole lot. She also gave me an example of who helped change opera and the answer I got was a man named Zefirelli who was an Italian movie director who filmed operas and changed people’s views on them everywhere.
Remember to join me next week and I will talk to you more about the big changes in opera.
Morgan Roberts is a 13-year-old from Maple Valley preparing to sing in her second production with Seattle Opera. She will be writing about her experiences as part of Puccini’s “Turandot” which will be performed at McCaw Hall this August. She was profiled in the Maple Valley Reporter in fall of 2010 when she was cast in her first professional show, A Christmas Carol at ACT Theater in Seattle.
Morgan is a familiar face within Tahoma School District’s musical theater after-school program, performing the roles of Pinocchio, Violet Beauregard and Mary Poppins. She also appeared with the Hi-Liners in Burien as Young Cosette in Les Miserables.