Expect everything plus kitchen sink during 'opera week'

March 28, 2010 

"Once in every show there comes a song like this," goes the send-up of show-stopping numbers in "Spamalot." It's funny because it's true. Any opera or musical worth hearing more than once has at least one big song, aria, duet or chorus that is so familiar it sometimes outweighs the rest of the production.

In the best-case scenarios, there'll be several such memorable "hits," but it's not always necessary to ensure immortality. I mean, few can explain the plot of "Lohengrin" but everyone knows the "Wedding March." It's a ringtone.

Not surprisingly a lot of these "war horses" have something to do with love. And thus we have Anchorage Opera's "Power of Love" program opening on Friday, a concert presentation of some of the most popular numbers from operadom -- without any of that pesky dialogue or character development -- kicking off a veritable marathon of opera in town.

Here's a look at a few highlights from the lineup.

• "Dich teure halle" from "Tannhauser" by Wagner, sung by Erin Wood, a rising soprano who has not only been compared to Deborah Voigt, but actually stepped in for Voigt when the diva wasn't up to a scheduled Sieglinde in "Die Walkure" with Chicago Lyric Opera. It may be the first time this major chunk of repertoire has ever been sung in Anchorage, at least with the 50 piece orchestra backing up the singer.

• "Art is Calling for Me," better known as "I Want to be a Prima Donna, Donna, Donna," from Victor Herbert's 1911 comedy "The Enchantress." Beverly Sills often hurled this amusing and vocally treacherous spoof of coloratura styles.

• "La donna e mobile," perhaps the best known tenor aria ever. Verdi hid the sheet music while rehearsing the first performance of "Rigoletto." It didn't do any good. As soon as the show opened people were singing it by heart.

• "Liebestod," the conclusion of Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde." Wagnerites consider this sacred, so behave yourself.

• Final trio from Gounod's "Faust," including the concluding chorus with organ, we can hope.

• Final trio from Strauss' "Der Rosenkavalier." OK, this really is the first performance in Alaska I can document of this astonishing trio for THREE sopranos. Here's the scene: an Older Soprano has been having an affair with a Younger Soprano. The Younger Soprano is falling in love with the Youngest Soprano. The Older Soprano sees this and decides to relinquish her claim on her, er, him so that he and she, er, she and she can ... Oh, never mind. Just listen to the music. It's hope, change and pain all at the same time.

• "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi," sung in a barbershop arrangement. What? There's a "special" arrangement of the "Habanera" -- that's a dance, not a pepper -- from Bizet's "Carmen" also on the program. We're trusting that conductor Andrew Sweeney has something interesting up his sleeve.

• "Ineggiamo," the breathtakingly beautiful Easter chorus from Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana," worth the price of admission all by itself.

• "Nessun Dorma," speaking of zingers, from Puccini's "Turandot." This will close the show and will be sung by the vibrant young Italian tenor (American actually, and born in Japan; the point is, he sounds like Pavarotti) John Ken Nuzzo, heard this month in the Anchorage Concert Chorus' presentation of Bach's B Minor Mass. It's got to be the best-known opera aria out there right now, the one made famous by the Three Tenors -- or maybe it was the other way around.

Check the Web sites in the information box to see and hear the stars performing music scheduled for this show, including "Nessun Dorma" and "Liebestod."

In case romantic love doesn't do it for you, there's the love of food, which will be the subject of Anchorage Opera's "Dark Night" presentation on Tuesday, April 6.

"Bon Appetit" is a one-act slapstick treatment of the late chef Julia Child's cooking shows by American composer Lee Hoiby. For the record, his reputation is solidly in the serious category, with operas based on "Romeo and Juliet," "The Tempest" and Tennessee Williams' "Summer and Smoke." (Last Frontier Theatre Conference alumnus Lanford Wilson wrote the libretto for the last-named.)

But "Bon Appetit" is getting a lot of performances lately. It's been presented twice in Anchorage before now, at expensive fundraisers for the opera company. "Dark Night" audiences will see the same wildly hilarious production featuring mezzo Nancy Caudill and Shane Mitchell, directed by Erin Dagon Mitchell, that previously brought down the house. Only this time, they'll be seeing it for $15 instead of the $100 ticket at the fundraisers.

Wait -- it's not over. No sooner will the final curtain come down on "The Power of Love" than it will rise on "Kismet." The UAA Opera Ensemble will present this Broadway hit based on the big tunes of Russian composer Alexander Borodin with two casts in rotation.

"Kismet" involves a tale of romance and intrigue set in exotic Persia. Melodies from Borodin's symphonic and operatic output are used for what have become a whole team of war horses -- "Stranger in Paradise" being the best known.

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