Volume 12, Issue 12 ~ March 18-24, 2004

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Annapolis Opera’s The Mikado
Opera glasses, top hats and beaded handbags may have defined opera in the past, but today’s opera is accessible.
Previewed by Carrie Steele

Inside Asbury Methodist Church’s third-floor practice room, amid folding chairs and fluorescent lighting, bright melodies soared from 28 performers.

At the Saturday afternoon rehearsal, singers clad in jeans, T-shirts and hiking boots sang and performed with all the energy and precision of an actual performance. “These are not prima donnas,” said Dennis Monk, president of Annapolis Opera, Inc., “These are great people.”

Opera glasses, top hats and beaded handbags may have defined opera in the past, but today’s opera is accessible.

“I wish that more people understood that opera is entertainment just like films and television,” Monk said. “We encourage students to come to dress rehearsals, which costs them only about $5,” said Monk.

Annapolis Opera wants to be even more accessible. “There are a lot of people who haven’t discovered us yet,” said Monk. “We try our best to reach out.”

Comedy is this season’s lure to bring in more and younger opera-goers.

Many of the operas that have recently entertained Annapolis opera-goers have been tragedies. “Most people assume that opera is very serious tragedy,” Monk lamented. This trend inspired Annapolis Opera to add variety and the new allure of humor to their program with the comic opera The Mikado.

This is the company’s big annual show, costing the small volunteer-run company $50,000 to $80,000 to produce. “This is not community theater,” said Monk of the professional artists, singers and directors who create the show.

Eight leads and 20 chorus singers have been rehearsing, detailing and perfecting The Mikado, by the English geniuses of comic opera William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera ran more than 1,000 performances and played in more countries than any other opera. Set in Japan, The Mikado pokes fun at English upper crust through timeless satire.

The Mikado premiered in 1885, when Europe was still discovering Japan. “Japan was exotic back then,” said Monk, and Gilbert and Sullivan tried to create authentic Japan in the opera. In keeping with Gilbert and Sullivan’s intention, Annapolis Opera costumes the singers in traditional Japanese attire. Vibrant kimonos, Japanese-style folding fans and lavish fabrics paint the stage.

Annapolis Opera’s annual extravaganza of song, staging and costuming will last just under three hours.

For the director, singers, stage crew, sound and light crew, publicists and the board of trustees, the production has been a much longer process.

With daily rehearsals, the professional sopranos, mezzo-sopranos, tenors, baritones and basses have been seasoning their vocal numbers, staging and acting.

Most lead singers know their parts before rehearsals begin, and many have practiced with a coach. The chorus has been rehearsing their parts for well over a month from thick Mikado songbooks. At rehearsals, piano accompanies the singers as an orchestra assembled just for this opera separately prepares to join them at dress rehearsals.

Two weeks before opening night, the director tweaked performance details. At the piano’s cue, the chorus wove around the practice room. Voices rose in precise crescendo as the singers prepared to trade in their small practice room for the Maryland Hall’s theater.

The production’s momentum goes into full swing right before the weekend of the show as all the elements that have taken so long to refine — vocals, acting, staging, lighting, sound, set design and construction, orchestra and costumes — finally convene on stage at Maryland Hall.

After the March 19 and 21 performances’ culminate months of hard work, set crews will strike the set of ancient Japan, complete with cherry trees. Then, Annapolis Opera will start preparing for its next big event in April, Pasta, Puccini and All That.

Playing March 19 at 8pm and 21 at 3pm at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. $50:

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated March 18, 2004 @ 2:00am.