Opera is the culmination of all things theatrical. It involves period costumes, glamorous sets, rich lighting, full orchestra playing a memorable score encompassing dramatic, romantic or comedic tales - and last but not least, a versatile, trained cast of singers. From Monteverdi in the 16th century, composers revolutionized previously static musicals to become a feast for the masses.
How does an opera evolve from a libretto to performance? Not easily. It involves a most critical degree of excellence from a huge cast of performers and craftsmen, and a lot of time spent at rehearsals.
It is Friday, June 1. You are seated unobtrusively in a room furnished with a few chairs, some music stands, and a piano. Enter six informally dressed youths. On the far side of the piano is a music director. A pianist begins to play for a scene from Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte" (loosely translated as "women are like that").
Suddenly, a magical transformation!
As the members of the sextet break into song, they are no longer ordinary people; they are trained opera stars, and what issues from them are a succession of brilliant notes that flood the room. Mozart, that rapscallion genius, can be heard leaping joyfully around you, drawing you in. You close your eyes and instantly, you are musically escorted into the 18th century, to a Vienna opera house, as the singers rehearse about being engaged in their risqu discussion on the faithfulness of marital partners. It's lively, and so are the singers, who jibe and tease mischievously. After their first notes, they've becomes their characters onstage!
Swing now to the Calumet Theatre stage - just the right size and setting for 20-some members of the orchestra and a huge cast of singers waiting for the green velvet curtain to rise on a dress rehearsal. After a brisk overture it begins. Overhead, the English translations form for us to follow the Italian used onstage.
We are in a coffeehouse where two officers express the fear that their fiances may not remain eternally faithful to them. A friend joins to lay a bet that he could prove in a day's time that the women are fickle. The wager is made, and we are whisked away - a raucous trip during the next few hours to discover - what? There are disguises, cross dressing, temptations, death threats, fake weddings and - by that time you are so absorbed, you forget that this is only a dress rehearsal.
Now leap to June 21 - opening night. Already thrilled with what you've watched come together, you anticipate the full performance with an eager audience awaiting the overture. Once again, the music, the rising of the curtain on a dramatically lit stage set, and you are back in the coffeehouse - and the fun and music begin all over again, this time "for real."
Two hours later the curtain comes down; you join your fellow observers by rising to applaud the players for one well deserved curtain call after another. You leave the theatre with Mozart's now familiar strains following you. Once again, you realize why not just the world's upper classes, but everyone, loved the composer and the music he wrote for them for all times, and for all of us.
Back to reality, you wonder what has happened over the past few centuries to distance the people from Mozart and his unorthodox, often racy opera. You learn that during the more prosaic 19th and early 20th centuries operas like this one were considered far too daring for polite audiences and so were rarely staged. However, since the 1950s, the composer's rhapsodic comedies, including this one, returned to where they belonged, on great stages everywhere - even here, on what was once called the Calumet Opera House, at a time when, during the historic copper mining days, opera and operatic music reigned supreme among, yes, even the miners and their families.
It can for you, too, in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Rotten Tomatoes averages: "Prometheus, B+; "Madagascar III," B