AN OPERATIC DIVERSION

I love keeping busy, and it’s something I’m good at. I have a mind that doesn’t turn off often (and when it does, it takes a while to ‘boot up’ again), and I get restless/bored easily if an event doesn’t stimulate my mental capacities. To that end, amongst all the other things I’ve been doing, I added to that by taking part in my university’s opera: the University College, London performance of Verdi’s AROLDO. This is the story of a young soldier who returns home from battle unexpectedly to find that his wife, the daughter of the chieftain, is hiding something from him, namely her affair with a man of lesser standing.

In Verdi’s amendment of his original opera, the first three acts show Aroldo’s suspicion and discovery of the affair, his heart torn between forgiving and escaping, and then his anger towards , all wrapped up between wife Mina’s unpitiable guilt and her father’s fury. He’s all for the well-met match of Mina and Aroldo, so an affair with a man who essentially runs the castle bar is scandal personified.

In the script, honour is prevalent. When Mina breaks her sacred marriage bonds, she not only damages the honour of being the chieftain’s daughter, heir, and her late mother’s double, but she is also aware of the risk against God she is taking. And yet it is God who stops Aroldo from taking the life of her lover.

If short on plot – which it must be for the lyricism to unfold – it is a well-written opera that delves into the human condition. It has a depth that, being a member of the chorus, is hard to find at times.

“My crime appears before me like a ghost everywhere!”

But, you know, in Italian. Which is a great fun to sing. As a Latin scholar back in my day, I naturally feel a pull towards Italian language, with its open front vowels and precision-articulation (comparatively, English is as sloppy as sloppy gets).

Nevertheless, this diversion harks me back to the acting and singing days I did during school. There was an annual play, alternating between musical and straight play, and other acting opportunities in addition. Sure, at Reading Uni, I took part in the 24-hour charity musical each of my three years, but that was filled with frivolities, and the audience almost expected fluffed directions and missing lyrics. With the Opera… Well, let’s just say that the UCOpera is in its 60th year now.

It’s serious business.

You know, I like that. It helps my overactive mind. Give me something to do; and make it about performing. Like writing, it’s a way to spend my time that my brain doesn’t translate into wasting time. After all, anything with culture and music (and both!) is never a waste of my time.

For this year, the production team have decided on a dystopian setting, of a castle in the middle of a somewhere-place, home to never-ending parties and the debauched like. Which involves as the costume designer put it to us “grungy clubbing”.

Suffice to say, I do not possess grungy clubbing. Most of my clothes are, in fact, too beautiful to fall under that moniker. Well, at least I can borrow The Fiancé’s leather jacket. It’s amusing, strange even, that my first venture into the operatic circles should come at such a length of time after I first started acting and, separately, singing chorus and discovering about the performances of old, through the power that is a Drama education in my younger years. It’s amusing/strange that my first foray should be something dressed so differently from what opera has come to be seen as, all flowing skirts and crowned gentlemen.

That said, I am really looking forward to seeing the set in all its glory next week, and, come Friday, doing the dress rehearsal with even the principles in their outfits.

Wish us good fortune!

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And here’s proof that I can fit said leather jacket. Circa 2014, so sorry for the dazzlingly tilted photo.

And, while we’re on it, I’ll allow myself an advertisement break. If you want to catch the UCOpera, it’s on for four nights from at the Stratford East Theatre, London. 20th, 22nd, 24th, 25th March. Tickets from here: http://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/aroldo

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