When I realize that my mouth is hanging open, I have been lost for several minutes in the two voices suspended over the stage of Sprague Hall. They approach the limit of hearing, floating on the gentle strains of a pianissimo, and yet remain clear and undisturbed by the air, the intimate, whispered words of lovers.
This vignette was the enthralling climax of Yale Opera’s performance of “Faust,” Act II, a part of this weekend’s “Opera Scenes” show. Beginning simply and unengagingly, the talent of the actors became more and more apparent as the play’s setting progressed from day to night. The tenor increased in stature with his pitch. Overwhelming the auditorium with a glorious high note, he was immediately almost inaudible, clasping the hands of his lover.
“Opera Scenes” will feature excerpts from several operas, as Artistic Director Doris Yarick-Cross and Stage Director Vera Calabria want to give their students as much stage time as possible. The event will be rather long, perhaps too long, for the attention span of a Friday-night audience. Though Faust was engaging, the scene from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” was charming but exhausting. Of course, it could have been much longer if the directors had not split the repertoire between the two nights, rescuing their audience from a dusk-till-dawn marathon of classical voice.
The Yale Opera Program, arguably the most competitive in the country, is surprisingly small including only 15 students in total. The tiny size of the department is deliberate: though the limited number of singers forces the directors to double-cast in every production, it also allows for an intimacy between vocalist and professor that would be impossible in larger programs. According to Yarick-Cross, the selections of this weekend’s production were chosen specifically for the singers. Each student will be given a lead role in an act of one show, while filling in the minor characters in the others. In this way, experience on the stage is distributed equally. This approach is more beneficial to the students than a full opera, which would allow only a few of them to tackle major roles.
The company’s productions, including “Opera Scenes,” are intended to help all students develop their stagecraft and character building by putting them in varied roles and theatrical contexts; even in their spring production, which is usually a complete opera, roles are distributed with the same aim and double-casting is frequent. Further, the vocal demands inherent in singing many parts in many operas will, purportedly, cultivate the actors’ purely musical talents. The success of its graduates attests to the success of this program. Despite the tiny graduating class, which includes on average five members, Yalies perform in operas all over the world. This year alone, six will sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
This fall event is part of the Yale Opera’s yearly series of projects, which includes a winter show at the Shubert Theater and another at Sprague Hall in the spring. This April, the company will put on Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld.”
The Yale Opera’s productions generally attract a wide audience, including New Haven residents and Yale students, as well as some theater enthusiasts from outside the city. However, the company hopes to attract a younger following, including a greater number of students from Yale College. According to Yarick-Cross, many opera companies have recently sought to become more relevant for this new generation.
“Opera is a fascinating medium that becomes more interesting to its audience with exposure,” she said.
Oddly, advertisement for the show is notably absent from campus. The only flyer I could find was tucked in the corner of a billboard in Hendrie Hall. If Yale Opera is looking to attract undergraduates, they will first have to let Yale College know that they are putting on a show at all. They might also do well to expose students more gently, with smaller, less sedating doses of the operatic world.
Friday and Saturday
at 8 p.m.