It was the beginning of March madness. My friend and I, both exhausted post-midterms, downed coffee on the way to the March 2 opening of The Belfry’s Let’s Make an Opera, which ran until March 10. In the full theatre we sat back, ready to relax during two hours of live entertainment. That’s not exactly how it went.
In the play, which celebrates the work of the English composer Benjamin Britten, a cast of amateur child and adult performers write and rehearse an original opera. In the second act, the cast performs the finished production, called The Little Sweep. It also calls on the audience. To rehearse. As the chorus. With the cast. For half an hour.
Before involving the audience members, one character addressed them, breaking the fourth wall: “It’s a marvelous idea . . . if it doesn’t fall flat.”
Luckily, I’ve performed in musical productions before. I picked up the melodies and rounds easily. My friend, however, who is both musically and theatrically inhibited, fell asleep during the song rehearsals and accidentally dropped tea on the head of the man in front of us.
Despite my friend’s annoyance, I appreciated the skilled transparency of the staged rehearsal process. A few of the actors raised the set in plain view of the audience while the orchestra tested their instruments at stage right. Everyone else scrambled around in backwards wigs and undone robes, which enhanced the comedy of the entire process.
The intricacy of Patrick Clark’s costumes was revealed through the layering of outfits and onstage changes throughout the show. The conductor, Giuseppe Pietraroia, also kept the audience enthusiastic by improvising jokes following some tone-deaf hoots.
“You have earned an intermission!” he exclaimed after 20 minutes of practicing a round.
While the acting fell a little flat (opening night nerves), no one missed a note. Each performer surprised me with extraordinary operatic voices. Even the 10 younger performers, whose ages ranged from elementary-school to adolescent, projected confidently and raised a few eyebrows in the audience. The sopranos were enchanting, the tenors authoritative and the baritones rich.
While the play somewhat demystified the operatic genre, it caught us off guard. This was partially our fault for having slept only four hours the night before. The play did, however, inspire me to get back onstage. Let’s Make an Opera was a mobilizing experience to say the least.