The opera theater department performs two French operas.
Temple’s opera theater department participated in this year’s Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, performing a double bill that channeled the festival’s 20th-century Parisian theme on April 15 and 17.
Hosted by the Kimmel Center from April 7 to May 1, the month-long festival celebrates arts and culture throughout the region with performances, exhibitions and numerous other creative experiences.
Inspiration for the festival derives from an artistic revolution that swept Paris between 1910 and 1920 – a ambiance that many in the region hope to see influence Philadelphia in the coming weeks.
“All over the country officials are cutting funding for the arts,” said second year graduate and supporting actor Grant Uhle. “Being in a place that fosters art and creativity like Philadelphia is doing is wonderful.”
Uhle noted the sensation of watching and participating in an opera.
“Having fully incorporated art forms, from opera singers to the orchestra, creates an intense feeling,” he said.
“It will be a great experience,” said Dr. Christine Anderson, the chair of the department of voice and opera. “It’s quite the honor for both our school and the students involved to be chosen to participate in PIFA.”
The operas, which were selected by voice professors from the Boyer College of Music and Dance, reflect the abilities and ranges of current students performing in both the orchestra and on stage. Both performances were narrated by a full-opera orchestra.
The operas on the bill include Maurice Ravel’s “L’heaure Espagnole” and Francis Poulenc’s, “Les Mamelles de Tirésias,” which are performed entirely in French, including what little dialogue occurs.
“These operas are very French, from the style of humor, to the themes in each performance,” first year graduate student and “Espagnole” lead Ekatrina Stetsyek said. “Even the way sexual content is portrayed and treated is in step with the French.”
Those unfamiliar with the French language were in luck. Super titles – subtitles that appear above the stage instead of below it – were displayed during both operas to aid the audience in understanding of the plot.
“It’s fairly clear by the actions of the actors what is occurring on stage,” second year graduate student and lead Carly Rapaport-Stein said of “Tirésias.”
“One of the things that is so brilliant about Poulenc’s composition is that one can understand exactly what is happening on stage thanks in part to the music,” Rapaport-Stein added.
“Poulenc’s opera has more short songs in which it’s obvious when to applaud,” Uhle said.
Based on a play of the same name written in 1903, “Tirésias” follows the exploits of a female Parisian and her attempts to escape the binds of womanhood.
“I’m done being controlled by my breasts,” Rapaport-Stein said, channeling the character of Tirésias she plays on stage.
“[Tirésias] is fed up with a husband that can only see her as a sexual object and liberates herself by leaving her femininity behind,” she added.
In response, Tirésias’ abandoned husband has no choice but to produce children of his own.
“The opera is a surrealist performance,” Rapaport-Stein said. “Much of what happens is clearly meant to be left to audience interpretation.”
The play of the same name – written by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire – which Poulenc based his opera on, first opened after World War I with a message of re-populating France. Poulenc performed his opera after the destruction of World War II, capitalizing on the same message in response to a society torn by conflict.
“Espagnole,” the second play on the double bill, focuses on another French woman fed up in her role as a wife.
“Concepción is very unhappy – as a woman, as a wife – in all aspects of her life,” Stetsyek said of her character in the performance. “Concepción sounds sad, but the performance itself is silly, simple and funny with music that can really move you.”
In “Espagnole,” the lead character spends the entire performance attempting to have multiple affairs while her husband is out.
Similar to “Tirésias,” the main character in “Espagnole” is willing to do whatever it takes to see her innermost desires become reality. The message of the opera, however, is slightly different.
“Ravel was trying to say that among all lovers, despite what happens in relationships, that only the effective lover that fits you best is the one that matters,” Stetsyek said.
Although the stories told on stage were conceived more than a century ago, their messages are still valid today. Those in attendance were treated not only to a dose of vintage French ideology, but they also experienced a period of French culture that perfectly reflected PIFA’s celebration.
“To get the flavor of French culture has been a great and quite beautiful experience,” Stetsyek said.
Chase Grier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.