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Opera Devotees Need To Welcome
Related Musical Theater Forms
by Mort Levine

The recent revival in San Jose of Rogers and Hammerstein’s monumental Carousel reminds one that the roots and branches of the varied forms of musical theater are, and always have been, in a symbiotic relationship to opera. Not only does this remarkable American musical as presented by Lyric Opera have many characteristics of a full-scale operatic work, but it provides great opportunity for young singers to perfect their art.

Battling the tiny stage and orchestra pit of the MontgomeryTheatre with its awkward acoustics, the company last month successfully staged a competent and satisfying work to enthusiastic audiences. Recall, it was not that many years ago that the stage hosted all of Opera San José’s productions.

Carousel was written to be sung by operatic voices, and the Lyric’s cast was heavily augmented by performers who have previously graced Opera San José and other regional opera groups. The leads like sopranos Kerie Darner-Moss, Beth Anne Wells and baritone Sascha Joggerst all exemplified Richard Rodgers’ intentions.

The presence of this all-volunteer local company, which goes back many decades as the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, carries on the worthwhile enterprise of encouraging and developing singing, dancing and acting talents along with keeping alive these great works which are close cousins of the operatic art form.

Many European opera houses regularly schedule American musicals like Bernstein’s West Side Story, Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls, as well as the treasures of Rodgers, Sondheim, Cole Porter and others. They also frequently provide airing of the great central European operetta repertoire, many of which gave rise to the Broadway musicals like those by Kurt Weill and others forced to leave Europe before WWII.

Reflecting on the way all of these musical mediums are linked, brings the conclusion that all too often the dedicated opera lover might put down these other forms as being of lesser value. While a case can be made for that point of view, there are valid reasons why such attitudes need to be rethought.

To the list above could also be added the body of vocal music which operates under the broad umbrella of religious music such as cantatas and oratorios, great classical symphonic works with soloists and chorus ranging from Beethoven’s Ninth to Verdi’s Requiem and Bernstein’s Mass.

Appreciating these diverse genres adds to the appreciation of opera itself. It may even be time for the San José Opera Guild to think of how it can broaden its scope of support for some of these worthy organizations which continue to enrich our local cultural scene.

(SJOG Newsletter May, 2011)

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