Tulsa Opera's organizational mission has at least two primary objectives: to produce classical operas of the highest caliber and to premiere new or lesser-known operas to Oklahoma audiences. This weekend, the company isn't just giving Vincenzo Bellini's Norma its Oklahoma debut; it's creating a whole new show.
Norma tells the story of a Druid priestess, Norma, sung by Brenda Harris, who is in love with and has born two children by a Roman solider named Pollione, sung by Frank Porretta, who is the enemy of the people.
Pollione has fallen in love with a young virgin, Adalgisa (Edyta Kulczak), who confides to Norma that she plans to soon run away with her new lover. Tormented by despair, Norma considers killing her children -- but ultimately sacrifices herself.
Kostis Protopapas, Tulsa Opera's artistic director, commissioned a new version of Norma from Stanley M. Garner, one of the company's favorite directors, who has served in that capacity for Tulsa Opera's productions of La Traviata, Aïda, La Bohème and Lucia di Lammermoor.
"A year and a half ago, I was approached by Kostis ... about creating a new production of Norma," Garner said. "At that first meeting regarding the project, we agreed that a fresh and untraditional concept would best serve the production in its Oklahoma premiere. After our discussion, I immediately began work on a new English translation for the projected supertitles and started putting together designs for scenery and costumes."
Garner's scenic design was inspired by Stonehenge Aotearoa in Carterton, New Zealand.
"Built on the same scale as Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain in England, Stonehenge Aotearoa is not a replica of those ruins but rather a modern structure," Garner said. "Since Stonehenge has been associated with the ancient Druids, my visit to Carterton came to mind in planning the production for this opera about a Druid priestess.
"By presenting Norma in an unspecific era or locale, the opera can be seen in a world without the distraction of Roman centurions in leather skirts or Druid priestesses in rhinestone tiaras, as is often the case in traditional productions," Garner said. "Removing that distraction more readily allows us as audience members to identify with the opera's characters and their drama."
Garner said one of the most enjoyable aspects of creating a new production of the opera was designing the props.
"Designing scenery and costumes for a new production requires not only artistic inspiration but a lot of careful thought," he said. "Although the look of a show may be abstract, the performers inhabiting that impressionistic world must approach it as their reality.
"I designed each of (the props) to be representational instead of literal. For example, the sacrificial dagger used by the Druid priestess is not a knife or scythe, but instead is a simple object, shaped like a crescent moon, which fits into her hand as if it could be used as a dagger," Garner said.
Norma is a bel canto opera, meaning "beautiful singing," and is revered as one of the premier bel canto masterpieces. Bellini wrote the opera in 1831 after being commissioned by La Scala.
The opera's title role is considered one of the most difficult and ambitious roles a soprano can undertake, and it is Harris' signature role.
"Brenda is one of the foremost interpreters of Norma, which is probably the most demanding role in the soprano repertoire," Protopapas said. "Her voice, with its amazing combination of beauty, power and agility, and her authoritative stage personality, make her an ideal interpreter of Bellini's mythical druid priestess.
"Frank Porretta, who has brought his thrilling top notes and high-voltage stage performances to the stages of the Metropolitan and Washington Operas, is the ideal match for Brenda Harris' Norma," Protopapas, who conducts the opera, said.
Norma plays the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's Chapman Music Hall, 112 E. Second St., Saturday, April 30 at 7:30pm; Friday, May 6 at 7:30pm; and Sunday, May 8 at 2:30pm. Tickets start at $10 and are available at tulsapac.com.
Boy Meets Shark
This weekend, Odeum Theater Company opens what The New York Times called "a screwy little jewel of a play," Swimming in the Shallows, by Adam Bock.
In it, Nick falls in love with a shark he meets at an aquarium, a lesbian couple contemplates marriage and an older couple goes their separate ways -- philosophically.
It's a dark comedy that explores love and happiness and the difference between the two.
Cassie Hollis directs David A. Lawrence, Will Carpenter, John Cruncleton III, Ione Michelle Blocker, Susan Dergoul and Brittainy Boyer. The play opens at 8pm April 28-30 and May 5-7 and 2pm May 1 in the Tulsa PAC's Charles E. Norman Theatre. Tickets are $20 and available at the PAC's website.
15 Minutes of...
Encore! Theatre Arts presents Fame April 28-May 1 at the Tulsa Little Theater, 1511 S. Delaware Ave. The musical tells the story of a group of students at the School of Performing Arts in New York City.
Doris, pushed and prodded by her stage mother, has to learn to be beautiful on her own. Montgomery has to come to terms with his loneliness, his considerable talent and his need for a friend. Ralph must deal with his intensity and anger that threaten to drive him to the same fate that claimed his idol, Freddie Prinze. Bruno frustrates his teacher, who hates his attitude but admires his talent. Leroy, an angry young man from the ghetto, is streetwise but a scholastic disaster.
Like the School of Performing Arts, Fame goes to the essence of young people and of theatre.
The curtain goes up at 7:30pm every day except Sunday, when the show starts at 2pm. Tickets are $16 at encoretulsa.com.
On April 30 at 7pm, in the Tulsa PAC's Liddy Doenges Theatre, Nubian Heritage Arts presents Songs of the Heart III: Sing, Dance & Rejoice, featuring vocalist Ernestine Dillard.
The performance celebrates the heritage of black people in America and features the Booker T. Washington Jazz Choir, The Friendly Oklahoma Jubilee Gospel Singers, Sharon Greene and Xylia Allen.
The event features songs from ancient Egypt and West Africa, Negro spirituals, gospel, blues, and jazz numbers.
"The conceptual framework of the event is to chronicle the historical journey of singing and praise dance from our ancestral homeland in Africa, through the saga of slavery, into freedom, and into the modern day," said director Shekhemt McKoy on the PAC's website.
Tickets are $10.
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