Lowell, Dunster Houses Prime for New Spring Opera Season
The Dunster House Opera (DHO), founded twelve years ago, intended to provide a more accessible form of operatic entertainment as all its operas are sung in English, while the Lowell House Opera (LHO) has produced an opera annually since 1938. This season DHO is producing Mozart’s classic Cosi Fan Tutte which opens February 19, and the LHO is staging two works, Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les sortileges” and Stravinsky’s rarely staged chamber piece, “L’histoire du soldat” which open on March 10.
Cosi Fan Tutte is as much about the obsessions of men as the fickleness of women: inconstancy, the chambermaid Despina claims, is universal.
The libretto deals with the misogynist philosopher Don Alfonso who incites two young officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, to betting on the faithfulness of their lovers while they’re away. They part with their sweethearts in heartbreaking fashion, only soon to return in disguise as exotic Albanians, and even sooner to discover, to their dismay and Don Alfonso’s cynical satisfaction, how easily their lovers are lured into the traps of new temptation.
“This is the first opera I saw when I was in tenth grade which made me want to be an opera singer,” says Jessica G. Peritz ’06, who sings the role of Despina.
“The whole opera is about how women are unfaithful, and my character is the only one to point out men are like that too,” says Peritz of her role.
Peritz, a History and Literature concentrator in Leverett House, was accepted by the Peabody Conservatory but decided to come to Harvard, in part because she could study liberal arts while still having the opportunity to sing in the house operas.
While Peritz and two other DHO leads are thinking about pursuing a career in opera, many others are singing opera for the first time. DHO draws a diverse range of singers every year, including many from the Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum and the Radcliffe Choral Society.
DHO’s entirely undergraduate cast creates some difficulties with already challenging repetoire. In particular, most women’s voices do not develop fully until they are well into their twenties, which makes Cosi Fan Tutte, with the recitatives and rich harmonies of late Mozart, complex and demanding for the young singers.
The production is the culmination of months of hard work. Auditions for the cast and orchestra were held in early October, and rehearsals began soon after. Blocking, the process in which the stage director works with the singers on movement and acting, occurred in intense daily rehearsals over intersession. The stage that consists of a four-foot tall platform in Dunster dining hall will be erected the week of the show.
As early as last fall, the DHO board selected the directors and organized the budget. President Trevor S. Munoz ’05 estimates a budget of around $6,000 this year, provided by Office for the Arts grants and the support of loyal Dunster Senior Common Room patrons.
Compared to Mozart’s charming masterpiece, the two works composing LHO’s program make for a darker evening. Stravinsky’s “L’histoire du Soldat” is based on a play by the French playwright C.F. Ramuz set to music for septet. It tells the story of a soldier who trades his violin with the devil for magical powers.
Ravel’s “L’Enfant et les Sortileges” is the story of the nocturnal revenge of toys and animals against a naughty child. Both pieces are set to exquisite music: Stravinsky’s subtle dissonances and meters, and Ravel’s 1920’s jazz and ragtime influence.
The production plans period lighting and an avant-garde set. One of the highlights is a life-sized magic lantern which projects shadows of people onto a painted lampshade. The rest of the set will be made of black and white frames.
“It’s very challenging to make sure [that] the technical, the theatrical, and the musical aspects are all working together instead of taking away from each other,” said stage director Sarah I. Meyers ’02.
Unlike the entirely undergraduate-staffed DHO, the LHO draws a large number of conservatory students from outside Harvard each year, especially the New England Conservatory of Music. Last year, with a staff of more than 140, LHO produced Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in the original Russian.
This year’s productions promise to be no less ambitious. The Ravel will be performed in French with a full orchestra and English supertitles.
The LHO runs on a slightly higher budget than DHO, which draws largely from the support of Lowell Senior Common Room members. Opening night tickets will run as high as $40 for fundraising.
—Staff writer Zhenzhen Lu can be reached at email@example.com.