Lord of the Opera

The Opera Theatre of St. Louis hopes you'll "grab it by the cojones and give it a twist"

May 19, 2004 at 4:00 am
Opera. OK, all of you who just sighed and rolled your eyes upon reading the word, shut up and listen. We know what you think. Opera is a form of punishment, a slow torture involving a huge outlay of disposable income, extremely loud singers going on in a foreign language, and 17 to 29 hours of your life that you will never, ever, even if you find a magic lamp and receive three wishes from a powerful and saucy genie, get back.

Ah, but opera, as performed by the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, is none of those things. The supernaturally charming Stephen Lord, music director for the OTSL and artistic director of the Boston Lyric Opera, knows much more about opera than you do. Benefit from his wisdom, and trust him when he tells you, this year, you should give opera a try. OTSL has taken great pains to make opera not just financially accessible for someone like you (youngish, steady job, fan of music, afraid of opera for the above reasons), but emotionally accessible for someone like you (see previous aside).

For starters, all OTSL performances are in English, a language you speak with some fluency. As for the myth that opera is a drawn-out affair, well, the two operas conducted by Mr. Lord, Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Giacomo Puccini's Sister Angelica, are of the verismo style. These are shorter, more realistic operas, told in a fast-paced way. Cavalleria tells the story of a hot-blooded Sicilian love triangle, complete with the requisite "deadly outcome." Angelica, the story of a single mother forced into a convent by her wealthy family, packs the heart-shattering power of 10,000 Hallmark cards -- take a young lady to this, you're getting loving.

Admittedly biased, Lord enthuses, "The Mascagni piece has a visceral punch that you just don't find in stereotypical opera, including Carmen," which opens the season, and which Lord heartily recommends for the opera neophyte (but not nearly as much as he recommends his own double bill). "The Puccini, if even the most die-hard opera averter can get through the Puccini without being wrenched, then...get a life. What can I say? I can't get through it still. Yesterday we did it, and none of us survived the staging of this, it's just so powerful. Wait'll you see this Puccini piece; you won't make it. The performance is beyond belief." See? Stephen Lord is sure you'll love it.

As for the belief that opera is spendy, well, for the price of two bottles of Tito's Handmade Vodka, you and a date can see both Carmen and the Cavalleria/Angelica show, simply because you're a newcomer to opera. $34 a seat for the intimate Loretto Hilton Center (130 Edgar Road; 314-968-4925) ain't much to risk; you can go right up front for $79 a seat. Aren't you worth it? OTSL certainly thinks you are, as the Newcomers Discount is only available for first-time ticket buyers.

Stephen Lord also thinks so: "Be part of it; come and join our family. Grab it by the cojones and give it a twist. Just jump into it, my good man."