Lyric Opera of K.C. Enters New Territory with 'Norma'
The Lyric Opera of Kansas City, in its final season at the Lyric Theatre before moving to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in the fall of 2011, presents Vincenzo Belliniï¿½s bel canto masterpiece Norma this month. This is the first time the company has presented any Bellini opera, and Camp recently had the chance to attend one of the productionï¿½s scene rehearsals and speak with its star and director.
Held in the Lyricï¿½s cavernous rehearsal space on 18th Street, the rehearsal centered on a duet between the title character, the priestess Norma, sung by Brenda Harrisï¿½who has worked extensively with companies in the United States and Canadaï¿½and Laura Vlasak Nolen, who performs the part of the young priestess Adalgisa. Kristine McIntyre directs the opera, a job thatï¿½s relatively rare for a woman. She worked closely with her cast as they practiced various stagings of the duet ï¿½Mira, O Norma.ï¿½
Based on a French play, Norma is the tragic story of the Druid priestess Norma, who is caught in a love triangle with her secret lover, Pollione, a Roman commander, and Adalgisa. In the end, Pollione is accused of a crime against the Druids, and he and Norma ï¿½ who joins him in a selfless act ï¿½ are burned for treason. The operaï¿½s title role is one of the art formï¿½s most demanding, and it includes the famous aria ï¿½Casta Diva,ï¿½ whose opening legato notes demand superhuman breath control.
Such drama is par for the course in the fascinating and frequently tragic plotlines of the opera world. So perhaps itï¿½s natural that the art form would attract gay fans. In fact, the very term diva, the Italian word for goddess, could aptly describe more than a few gay men.
But more significantly, perhaps many gays and lesbians can relate to the aspects of oppression and tragedy inherent in many opera stories.
McIntyre and Harris offered their takes on the subject.
McIntyre, who spent many of her formative years with the one of the worldï¿½s great companies, the San Francisco Opera, during a time of innovation and experimentation, says, ï¿½You know, Iï¿½ve spent my whole life in the arts and I think, in terms of why any of us come to work, it has to do with a place where we can be ourselves and be accepted and enjoy the differences between people.
ï¿½In terms of attracting a gay audience? A lot of the stories are about outsiders, thereï¿½s always that. I think thatï¿½s one of the great themes of the arts in general, but I think opera in particular tends to focus on these stories of oppression of peoples in general or individuals struggling against great circumstances.ï¿½
Then, pondering another explanation, she adds with a cheeky grin, ï¿½I donï¿½t know ï¿½ good taste?ï¿½
Brenda Harris, who comes from southern Illinois and got hooked on opera after attending a production of the Strauss masterpiece Elektra during her college years at Illinois Wesleyan University, says, ï¿½Most of my characters do [triumph> even if itï