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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Music and theater departments to come together for first UC Davis opera

For the very first time, Aggies can enjoy a night at the opera at the Mondavi Center.

With music provided by the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle will captivate audiences in Mondavi’s Jackson Hall this Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Two guest opera singers will perform the roles of Bluebeard and his wife Judith.

The story is based on a fairy tale about a castle with seven doors, through which Bluebeard’s wife Judith enters to illuminate them. However, when she goes through each room, she discovers a new secret about her husband.

UC Davis Symphony Orchestra conductor Christian Baldini is very excited to work on an opera for the first time.

“It is a really powerful piece, and the message it communicates can reach anyone,” Baldini said. “I think young people will love it because it is connected to our inner selves, to who we are and what the twists of fate are.”

Chair of the Department of Music and professor of musicology Christopher Reynolds said that performing Bluebeard is both an honor and a challenge to the singers as well as the orchestra.

“The composer Bela Bartok wrote very difficult music for the orchestra and the singers will be singing in Hungarian, which is not a normal operatic language,” Reynolds said. “For both of those reasons, it is seldom performed by professional companies, so I think that makes it a great challenge for us to take on.”

Theatre and dance professor Bella Merlin said that the play is challenging from an acting and staging standpoint.

“We’re taking on the staging and the intricacies of the acting choices; opera is quite unusual because you’ve got your conductor, Christian Baldini, who’s working very intricately to ensure the atmosphere of the music, as well as the precision of the music, and it’s very complex,” Merlin said. “Rhythms, timings, dynamics, all that work is being done while the stage directors are ensuring that the pictures make sense, that there’s the right interaction between them.”

The singers, Gregory Stapp from San Francisco and Jessica Medoff from New York, have come to play the roles of Bluebeard and Judith. They will sing for an hour with the help of the orchestra and Baldini, who will be communicating with them throughout the piece audibly and via eye contact.

Baldini hopes many students will attend and share a whole new experience with a transformed Mondavi.

“It is like watching a film: you often identify yourself with a situation, or with a character, and it either makes you happy or passionate or really interested in something,” Baldini said. “This is an opera that presents you with a strong statement. You will definitely be a different person after you’ve seen it.”

Reynolds said that one of the goals he hopes the opera achieves is simply getting people to come to both performances out of pure interest and appreciation of the performance.

“We want people who hear the first performance to have such a good time that they return for the second performance,” Reynolds said. “The students involved in the performance are putting in many extra hours of rehearsal. Their commitment to the success of this opera is really an inspiration to those of us who know them.”

What should viewers expect when attending? Merlin said that since it’s an hour long, it would be short and sharp.

“The music mixes from quite strange modern to very romantic gushy kind of heart-swooping music,” Merlin said. “It’s a sexy love story, and it also involves murder mystery and dark suspense so I think it’s a great opportunity for any student who wants to develop the artistic side of their personality.”

Theatre and dance department professors John Iacovelli and Thomas Munn have helped work on the setting. Iacovelli designed the rooms of Bluebeard’s Castle, while Munn designed the lighting within each room. Merlin said that their contributions are impressive, considering the small budget they had to work with.

“The costumes and the set and the lights are so important and each of the doors has a different kind of quality and the quality of the light tells you a little bit about what’s in there,” Merlin said. “It draws upon your own creative skills in a very intense time while you’re also doing a full teaching load and everything else you do as part of being a university lecturer.”

Although the opera is written in a foreign language, its themes are universal – every culture can relate. Baldini said that this opera, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is still relevant to modern audiences.

“Bluebeard’s Castle was written exactly 100 years ago, yet it is very fresh in its message; it deals with love, power, fear, the mind, its inner world and human relationships,” Baldini said. “That is ultimately what we are drawn to as human beings and I am very excited and proud about presenting this in Davis for our audiences.”

Tickets are $7.50 for students and $15 for general admission and can be purchased at the Mondavi Center box office or mondaviarts.org.

LEA MURILLO can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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