DalOpera double bill showcases opposing forms, enduring themes

Fountain School's opera extravaganza runs Nov. 30-Dec.3

- November 30, 2023

A scene from the DalOpera production of Jacques Offenbach’s La Chanson de Fortunio. (Nick Pearce photos)
A scene from the DalOpera production of Jacques Offenbach’s La Chanson de Fortunio. (Nick Pearce photos)

The 2023 DalOpera mainstage production is a double bill of stunning contrasts. Fountain School of Performing Arts students will perform Umberto Giordano’s one-act tragedy Mese Mariano, followed by the comic opera La Chanson de Fortunio by Jacques Offenbach.

The production, directed by Véronique Mackenzie and music directed by Betty Allison, will be performed in the Sir James Dunn Theatre from Nov. 30 until Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Dec. 3.

Love in many forms

The two operas tell stories about different forms of love: one familial and romantic, the other tragic and hilarious.”Both pieces are really about love and how there are all kinds of definitions and experiences to love,” says Mackenzie.

Mese Mariano takes place in a church orphanage, where a young woman named Carmela has come to visit her son. “She was forced to give him up, which is a big part of her character,” says Samantha Fullerton, who plays Carmela. “She has gone through a lot of hardship in her life and she's not quite recovering from it, but she's learning to cope with it.” The opera focuses on Carmela’s undying love for her child.

A scene from Mese Mariano.

Then, the stage will transform for a comic opera about men chasing romantic love. La Chanson de Fortunio revolves around the titular Fortunio, an elderly lawyer with a beautiful wife. Mary Austin, who plays Fortunio’s clerk Valentin, explains: “His good luck with women is attributed to this song that he used to sing to women; that he has since lost. So we spend the show looking for the song and trying to successfully use it on our romantic interests.

Get tickets: Mese Mariano and La Chanson de Fortunio

Switching between styles

Mese Mariano and La Chanson de Fortunio are not a traditional pairing, says music director Betty Allison, but this arrangement allows students and audience to experience traditional, tragic opera as well as absurd comedy. “So I think it takes the audience on that same journey it’s taking our students on,” says Allison.

Each opera has a distinctive musical and theatrical style as well. Mese Mariano is a traditional Italian sung-through opera. “It's kind of quintessentially what most people think of as what opera is. It's very dramatic,” says Allison. In contrast, La Chanson de Fortunio will alternate between spoken English dialogue and French singing. “Think of it like a Gilbert and Sullivan or a musical theatre piece”, says Allison.

Both operas will use projected surtitles to translate the Italian and French song into English, in a first for the DalOpera program. Karina Matys, who also plays Carmela, says this makes the opera accessible to audiences, while giving students a great learning challenge: “We've been doing English operas for the past several years, so we wanted to do something different.”

Music and movement

The rehearsal process for Mese Mariano/La Chanson de Fortunio has involved steady work since the end of last academic year, when the performers received their roles and librettos. By learning their music over the summer, the students are prepared to rehearse in the fall.

“Getting the music into your body and letting it settle is a real thing,” says Matys, “And so being given these roles over the summer, we've had the roles now for six months and it feels so much better and easier to sing.”

Working together

The operas’ theatrical worlds come to life thanks to set designer Holly Meyer-Dymny and costume designer Katrin Whitehead, as well as numerous Technical Theatre students. “It's one set that serves both operas that will transform. So we are able to take the audiences . . . from one emotional setting to another,” says Mackenzie. Mese Mariano will use plain, somber aesthetics, in contrast with the loud colours and silly props of La Chanson de Fortunio.

The directors and performers are excited by the collaboration between different Fountain School of Performing Arts programs, which has brought this unique production to life. A few acting students are involved, playing non-singing roles. “Suddenly they're in each other's worlds,” says Mackenzie, “and I love that it will make the school tighter out of respect for what each other does.”

Audiences should expect a performance that challenges their ideas of what opera can be and leaves them feeling joyful. “The big thing that I would like people to take away is just to look at the contrast and realize that opera is not one kind of thing,” says Fullerton. The love within the stories and the creator’s love of their work will shine through.

Says Mackenzie, “They'll see the set, they'll see the collaboration and they will feel something. You can't help but feel something.”

Tickets for Mese Mariano/La Chanson de Fortunio are available at the Dal Arts Centre Box Office.


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