Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Contrasting theatrical duo makes for a great weekend

Valerie Cowan

Two breathtaking but distinct theatrical performances made my weekend quite memorable. The first of which took place Saturday evening at the Lila Cockrell Theatre. The San Antonio Opera’s production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” adapted for opera by French composer Charles Gounod (1818-1893), took me through a whirlwind of emotions as I watched and listened in awe to the musical spectacle onstage. The second performance took place at the Majestic Theater on Sunday afternoon, and allowed me to revisit all my childhood memories. Disney’s “Mary Poppins” attracted an audience of all ages. It was hard to resist humming along to all the familiar tunes as the performers of the hit Broadway musical sang and danced onstage.

Photo Caption: Maria Alejandres, who sang the role of Juliet, let me take a picture with her backstage after the show.

The stamina of the performers in both productions amazed me. Richard Troxell and Maria Alejandres, Romeo and Juliet respectively, were onstage and singing with full force the entire two-and-a-half-hour performance. I spoke with Cindy Sadler, who sang the role of Juliet’s nurse Gertrude, after the show.

“This particular performance for me is not physically demanding because my part is relatively small,” Sadler said. “For the two leads… it’s just extremely physically demanding because they’re just onstage the all the time.”

I was very curious about rehearsals and how the singers can possibly have the endurance to rehearse such demanding material for the amount of time it takes to put on such a flawless performance.

“We don’t rehearse the entire opera every time; we rehearse sections of it,” Sadler said. “We don’t sing out all the time. We do what’s called marking, which is basically just singing it softly or taking it down an octave. Singers are trained to preserve their voices.”

Watching a Shakespeare play as a French opera with English supertitles seemed oddly natural, even though Shakespeare originally wrote his plays in English. Shakespeare’s words are so musical and poetic on their own; it’s almost like listening to music even when there is no musical setting to the text. In Sadler’s eyes, the musical setting enhances the meaning of the text.

“Music adds emotion to words that words cannot express, and I think that this does so amply,” Sadler said. “There are significant changes to the original Shakespeare play that are necessary to make it into a musical drama because it takes longer to say something by singing than it does with just spoken word.”

Music also seemed the natural setting for “Mary Poppins.” Set to the familiar tunes of the original Disney film along with numerous new songs, the play moved swiftly from one spectacular song and dance to the next.

Two things never cease to amaze me about musicals: the young age of some of the performers and the ingenuity of the set design. The youths playing the roles of Jane and Michael Banks range in age from ten to twelve, and they’re up there singing and dancing in front of thousands of audience members like it’s what they were born to do. I think back to what I was doing when I was ten years old… watching movies like “Mary Poppins” in my living room, struggling with math homework, and going to the swimming pool with friends. That isn’t to say I didn’t accomplish anything or have a good time when I was ten; I’m just astonished at what these kids are capable of. As for the set design, I can never quite understand how it all works. From the nosebleed seats, props seem to magically move on- and offstage by themselves. If I paused to look at the program for a few moments, as soon as I look up, the stage would look entirely different.

There was never a dull moment during either of the performances this weekend. If you missed this weekend’s show times of Mary Poppins, it runs through this Sunday. Select tickets are still available on http://www.ticketmaster.com/. Up next in the San Antonio Opera’s season is Mozart’s Don Giovanni from February 17-February 19. For more information, visit http://www.saopera.com/.

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