Arts preview: Is opera getting sexier?

By Columbus Alive
From the October 24, 2013 edition
  • Photo courtesy of Opera Columbus

Things are certainly spicing up as Shadowbox and Opera Columbus warm up for their second Opera on the Edge collaboration, "The Merry Widow" 

If it wasn't "opera," opera might innately arouse one's inner Beavis and Butthead. 

Its iconography includes horned helmets and spears. 

Heh. 

The script of an operatic production is called a libretto. 

Heh, heh. 

It inspired the orgasmic colloquialism, “It ain't over till the fat lady sings.” 

Heh, heh — with crescendo — heeeeeeeeehhhhhh!

Alas, opera seems to suffer the fate of many a centuries-old art; PBS’ jam but undervauled almost all other places. Like sitar playing or Shakespeare or Rick Steves as Rick Steves.

It is hard for a piece of music written by an Austrian-Hungarian man named Franz in 1905 to compete for the attention of people raised on Top 40. 

Hard. Heh.

But wait ... vas ist das?! 

Shadowbox and Opera Columbus’ collaborative effort called Opera on the Edge is gearing up for its presentation of the abridged, English version of Franz Lehar's classic operetta "The Merry Widow." Its advertisements and promotional posters ooze sex appeal.

"The look of it isn't what you would necessarily anticipate an opera to look like," said Opera Columbus' general manager Peggy Kriha Dye.

Instead, the traditional can-can girls look and act like modern-day burlesque performers and Don Frye of Shadowbox re-wrote the libretto.

"It has some flavor, it's clever," Kriha Dye said. "It's been rewritten over and over and we wanted something relevant and relatable. We want the audience to laugh and to have content they find funny. But it makes total sense and matches the intention of the original operetta."

The music, for example, remains true to its Viennese glory, but “Widow's” 13-member cast uses the bistro/ bar setting in which it is performing to better tell the story of the new widow looking for a new husband — and community — with which to share her inherited fortune. Singers traipse around the audiences' tables, dancers come from the kitchen, etc.

"The nature of this particular show needs to take place in a place like Shadowbox," Kriha Dye said. "It needs the grittiness and modern aspect of it. It's the perfect combination."

Putting a modern spin on classic operatic performances benefits everyone involved, she added. 

"It's twofold for us. A lot of Shadowbox's audience wouldn't go to the opera and vice versa," Kriha Dye said. "It's also an opportunity to give young singers in this town more opportunity to perform. My personal hope is the audience falls in love with the art form or they are curious and buy tickets to 'Madama Butterfly,' which we are performing a month later."

Yes, but is it sexier than usual opera? Is sexier opera a trend of modern times? An attempt to wake it from its warm PBS bed?

"Sexy is a term that wouldn't have been used before but that doesn't mean opera hasn't been sexy," Kriha Dye said. "It's not a new concept for opera but it is a new impression for someone who's been listening to the stereotype of what opera is."

This is, after all, the art form that brought culture sexpot archetype Carmen and philandering Don Giovanni. Who doesn't want a classy, artistic way to consume soap opera-ish stories of scandal, love and regret?

Plus, entrance to see the Opera on Demand performances doesn't cost a thing.

"There's no risk here," Kriha Dye laughed.

Now that's sexy.