The Opera Theatre of Yale College will present their final show of the season, “Gift of the Magi,” this Friday and Saturday at Saint Thomas More Chapel.
“Gift of the Magi” is a chamber opera — an opera performed with a chamber ensemble rather than a full orchestra. The opera version that OTYC will perform was orchestrated by David Conte in 2000. It is based on a short story of the same title by O. Henry.
“Of all our productions this season, ‘Gift of the Magi’ feels the most personal,” said Alex Whittington ’22, who is the director of the production and an OTYC board member. “It is the most down-to-earth and relatable tale — a very human and touching piece for the season.”
“Gift of the Magi” is about a young couple, Jim and Della, who wish to buy Christmas gifts for each other but are too destitute to do so. Over the course of the opera, the pair finds ways to create gifts and celebrate their love.
OTYC chose this piece during a pitch meeting last semester. Whittington, who made the pitch, stumbled across the opera in what he described as a “crazy serendipitous find.” He said that since the OTYC already scheduled an ambitious season, he figured that a small chamber opera would work well for their final production. He added that the board believed “Gift of the Magi” would be an appropriate choice for the festive time of year.
President of the OTYC Isobel Anthony ’20 noted that the committee seeks to program a “comprehensive season.” Anthony said the group aims to feature pieces from different time periods and genres.
Because “Gift of the Magi” was orchestrated in 2000, it differs from the OTYC’s other fall semester productions in its modern tonality, Anthony said. Other shows this season featured Baroque and early 20th-century music.
According to Whittington, opera has taken a new form over the past century. Rather than creating dramatic music, composers focus on how music “crafts the narrative.” “Gift of the Magi” is part of this new realist movement in opera.
“[The music in ‘Gift of the Magi’] focuses on painting the text realistically and earnestly, in terms of how actual people might say this,” Whittington said. “It is in no way immutable, different movements and ideas coalesce in different ways — it’s really gorgeous.”
Whittington also noted that “Gift of the Magi” contrasts musically with older operas in its use of the aria. Most arias are self-contained and grand. But according to Whittington, the arias in this opera resemble initially “discombobulating [and] disjunct phrases” that engage in dialogue with one another.
Rehearsals for the “Gift of the Magi” began the week after fall break. Whittington said he approached the project collaboratively. He wanted to make sure everyone felt heard and that they were making choices that came from a place of self-discovery.
Anthony described the production as “something that takes opera off the big pedestal and grandeur” and brings it to the people. She said she hopes the audience will leave with a sense of how accessible modern opera can be.
For Whittington, it is important to connect with both the Yale and New Haven communities. This year, the OTYC is focusing on involving more people in opera. While they have partially achieved this goal by casting large numbers of first years, they are also trying to expand their reach beyond Yale’s campus.
“A big focus of this show for me and a big reason I wanted to do it in Saint Thomas Chapel is so that we could reach out to members of the New Haven community,” Whittington said. “The people really breathe life into this city and have given us the privilege to be here and be a part of this super vibrant and dynamic community.”
Saint Thomas More Chapel is located at 268 Park St.
Freya Savla | firstname.lastname@example.org