Opera has somehow become synonymous with a slew of stereotypes that brand it as elitist and incomprehensible—a long, dull and expensive night at the theater which “ain’t over til the fat lady sings.”
On the contrary, opera can offer beautiful, inspiring music, some of which may be quite familiar—and even fun to listen to. “Opera is everywhere—it’s the background of life,” says Sharon Maxwell-Yamamoto, the executive director and producer of Opera Bravura Entertainment, Inc., a nonprofit organization that aims to show a more accessible side of opera.
The tongue-in-cheek title of Opera Bravura’s latest production offers a sense of just how serious this stuff is: “Desire, Despair, Destiny & Death!”—presented by the company Jan. 11 at the Montgomery Theatre—is an evening of arias and duets from 15 famous operas, including Carmen, Faust, Die Fledermaus, The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro.
Maxwell-Yamamoto, a soprano, will sing some of the selections in “Desire, Despair, Destiny & Death!” alongside tenor Christopher Bengochea, mezzo-soprano Katja Heuzeroth, baritone Michael Taylor and soprano Diane Squires.
The performance will offer a staged concert format, with singers in full (often extravagant) costume and the 27-piece Opera Bravura Orchestra conducted by Bruce Olstad playing on stage instead of in a pit.
Maxwell-Yamamoto modified the format of the supertitles, summarizing each piece in a paragraph style instead of requiring audiences to read translations of every line. “It’s less intrusive and easier to follow along,” she said.
Maxwell-Yamamoto, now 51, has been singing since before the age of 3. In that time, she’s heard many people claim they don’t like opera, and finally started asking why. “‘It’s too long;’ ‘I don’t understand it,’ ‘it’s too expensive,’” and such variants were the responses, “but I can totally put myself in their place,” she says.
“There’s a lot of it that’s tiresome. If you don’t know what it is you’re listening to, it can sound like a shrieking cacophony, and ‘cheap’ tickets cost $75,” Maxwell-Yamamoto says. “I want to show people it doesn’t have to be that way. Our tickets are much more affordable at $35 and go down from there,” she says. “As for entertainment value, the show is not boring, and there’s no snoring. I’ve been to shows with sleeping patrons or a few more empty seats after intermission, and we’ve never had that happen,” she said. “The audience is always smiling at the end of this show.”