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Opera offers comedy, charisma and cross-dressing

RANDY METCALF/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Voice and biochemistry senior Dennis Tamblyn and music graduate student Theresa Moreau are performing in the up-and-coming free opera "La Canterina" at the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre. The comedic opera "La Canterina," runs tomorrow and Saturday with free admission.
By Lauren Hillery ­ Contributing Writer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 19, 2004
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It ain't over till the fat lady sings. But for most UA students, "it," the experience of opera, has yet to begin.

However, "La Canterina" or "The Budding Soprano," a short comedic opera by Joseph Haydn, offers a perfect introduction to the world of opera.

Director and music professor Charles Roe emphasizes the ease in understanding the opera through its use of English, in addition to its brevity, simplicity and straightforward plot. He explains that because of these reasons, "La Canterina" "is a good entrÄe to opera."

"La Canterina" seems to offer the perfect operatic package, including free admission for its two performances, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

"It's free and a story that everyone can relate to. It's light, fun and easy to understand," explains lead Heather Ribblett, a voice performance junior.

Its plot revolves around the love interests of lead Gasparina, played by Ribblett, whose mother Apollonia, played by Theresa Moreau, music graduate student, coaches her in male manipulation. The complicated entanglement starts when Gasparina's wooed by her singing teacher Don Pelagio, played by voice and biochemistry senior Dennis Tamblyn. However, Ribblett's true love interest lies with the young and wealthy Don Ettore, played by Stella Markou, a musical arts graduate student. The confusion and intrigue that surrounds this love triangle is what drives the comedic performance.

And it is the comedy that lured Ribblett to the role of Gasparina.

"It was the allure of the character that drove me to audition," Ribblett said.

She says she enjoys comedic leads. As the only undergraduate student in the production, she feels honored to be in the company of such talented musicians and actors.

But even these experienced performers are challenged to successfully pull off a great deal of comedy. Excessively dramatized movements, facial expressions and quirky musical lines provide a perfect formula for over-the-top comedic performances. And although these characteristics are enjoyable to the entire audience, Tamblyn explains his role will be particularly funny to his fellow vocal peers.

Because he plays a vocal instructor, he borrowed some mannerisms from his various voice teachers. For instance, Roe often uses the term "put in the cry," and Tamblyn injects that into his performance.

"The audience will appreciate it; they'll know which teacher it's coming from," Tamblyn said.

"La Canterina" can offer something for everyone, a quality not all operas hold. Markou explains that not only does the comedy draw in the audience, but so do the opera's worldly themes.

"It offers a packaged way of including complexity and humor that opera can offer. There are a lot of qualities of humanity, jealousy and greed," Markou said.

Although this opera is not as traditional as most, Roe wanted to uphold authentic characteristics of Haydn's time. That's reflected in the costuming; Roe worked closely with Nanalee Raphael, costumer for UA's opera theater, to ensure that the audience is engaged in the mood of the 18th century.

Raphael said that without that certain mood, the authenticity and characterization would be lost.

"There's a certain feel to the music that you can't get past; it wouldn't feel right," Raphael said.

To reflect that, Raphael mixed her ideas for 18th century hairstyles with the characters' personalities. In opera, she explains, the costuming must be just right to match with the trills and frills of the vocals.

"The music is as decorative as the time; it eclipses the artistry of the clothes," said Raphael.

Yet the costuming is not the only aspect of the opera kept authentic. Though characters are two males and two females, the male part of Don Ettore is written for a soprano. At the time the opera was composed, males always played the female roles. To keep in that tradition, female Markou plays the role of Don Ettore.

Markou's first opportunity to play a male has been challenging, but she enjoys the freedom it offers.

"I get to be angry, which is not traditional. As a male, I am allowed to wear my emotions on my sleeve," she said.

However, what is potentially most impressive about "La Canterina" is that rehearsal and preparation time will only total about three months, as opposed to the normal semester length. Surprisingly, the actors claim rehearsals have gone smoothly.

That smoothness translates to the stage, providing the audience with a light opera that moves quickly.

"If someone's afraid of opera, they can come for 50 minutes and it's done," Tamblyn said.

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