On Wednesday and Thursday at 8 p.m., the Opera Theatre of Yale College, or OTYC, performed the English baroque opera “The Judgement of Paris,” which was written in 1702 at the Saybrook Underbrook by John Eccles.
The opera is based on the Roman myth of the judgement of Paris and tells the story of the Roman god Mercury who descends from the sky with the golden apple of Discord and asks the shepherd Paris to award it to whichever of three goddesses — Juno, Pallas or Venus — he finds most worthy. In the end, while Juno offers him empire and Pallas victory, Paris finally selects Venus, who tells him that “love conquers all.”
“I noticed a large cultural desensitization to the acts of emotional, physical and sexual violence performed against women on the operatic stage; Such are the nature of the stories that it’s almost mundane in its frequency,” director Mia Rolland Bezem ’24 said.
With this opera, which was also her directorial debut, Bezem aimed for “staging choices that don’t aestheticize and trivialise female subjugation, and that undermine patriarchal ideology rather than reinforce it.” To achieve this, Bezem sought to present the story of Paris being judged rather than with Paris judging.
According to Dani Zanuttini-Frank ’22, the opera’s musical director, the opera itself was written for a competition dating back to 1701 held in Britain in order to remedy the lack of good English operas at the time.
“It actually came second, but the judgement of history chose it to be the better choice,” Zanuttini-Frank explained.
OTYC’s performance of the opera was partially adapted for a modern audience. According to Zanuttini-Frank, the original plot centers on the male gaze, while the updated version satirizes this aspect in part by having the three goddesses dress up as characters from popular media. Juno, the goddess of the home, dresses as actress Donna Reed, Pallas as Lara Croft, and Venus as Jessica Rabbit.
He added that, from a musical perspective, the opera is quite different from the classical music most Yalies are accustomed to — the orchestral accompaniment is partially improvised and the vocals are more ornamented than what would be typical for most classical operas.
Aaron Dean ’24, a violinist in the opera, said that the opera’s use of English made it much more accessible. Musically, he noted that the largest difficulty was Baroque music’s use of a different harmonic language.
“All of our normal tuning systems went out of the window, we had to free tune everything, which I had never done before,” Dean said.
Julian Manresa ’22, who played Mercury, agreed that adapting to the slightly different harmonic language was a challenge — the baroque A chord is a bit lower than that of other classical music, which often threw off the musicians.
“Baroque music is hard to sing if you’re not used to it, it’s very exact and there’s not much room for giving and taking,” Manresa said.
Zanuttini-Frank also mentioned the challenges caused by University restrictions — the original opera requires many more musicians than there are in OTYC, and also calls for up to 30 singers in the chorus while OTYC only had four available. The group also had only a month and a half to prepare.
Bobby Hill ’24, who played Paris, said his favorite part was seeing all of OTYC’s work from over the last two months come to fruition. The greatest challenge for him, however, was performing with masks.
“Sometimes it’s hard to sing, sometimes it’s hard to get air in the masks, but we made it work,” Hill said. “Performing an opera in front of a group for the first time in a long while was just a great time.”
Zanuttini-Frank noted that the restrictions were actually helpful in some cases. The smaller number of performers allowed for more interaction with the audience — a feature which was visible at the performance.
“There’s such a large amount of wonderful and talented musicians and singers at Yale, and most people at Yale are very busy people, so the fact that we were able to gather so many people for the performance and rehearsals is lovely,” Zanuttini-Frank said.
Audience member Edgar Wang ’24 was impressed with the show.
“First time seeing a show in person at Yale — brilliant, excellent production and I really liked the critical theory aspect of it,” Wang said. “It was really interesting and well integrated.”
The OTYC will stage the opera “The Infinite Energy of Ada Lovelace” on Dec. 3 and 4.