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October 10, 2012

Me Vs. Music

Night at the opera

It goes without saying that Louisville has many charms. It is a city where, as an artist, you can live and work with the occasional enthusiastic audience to share in your craft. It is a city that has dedicated support to the arts — from the small arts group to the larger “big box” arts like the Louisville Ballet, Actors Theatre, the Louisville Orchestra and the Kentucky Opera. While the small groups sometimes scoff at the large amounts of funding given to the larger organizations, it is quite nice to have the presence of these entities as a part of what Louisville has to offer.

For a few years now, I have been granted an opportunity to learn about the Kentucky Opera more intimately. I’ve been able to attend several rehearsals and singing events, courtesy of one of my best friends, Bryce Hudson, and opera director David Roth. I even got a chance last season to play official photographer for the opera’s production of “The Merry Widow.” Still missing from my opera experience was attending an opening night, but I got that experience with the opera’s 60th season opener, “Tosca.”

Because this was an evening with Bryce, a fancy dress was required. Since I only rarely attend “fancy” events, I don’t own a gown other than my wedding dress, so I chose my Badgley Mischka cocktail dress treasure, a score from a lucky evening at TJ Maxx. My anatomy has changed some in the last year, so I was praying that it still fit. I got lucky — it fit, and the night was just cool enough to wear it.

From dinner, we had a red carpet walk from the Brown Hotel to the Brown Theatre. (The red carpet is apparently customary for opening night.) A photographer and two actors, dressed as a bishop and monsignor, respectively, were set for photo ops. No matter how hard I try, I’m an awkward photo subject. I seem to always look uncomfortable.

I suppose it is a side effect of being used to taking the photos, instead of being the subject of those photos. I either look afraid or as if I have some intestinal upset. When I do seem to get photographed, it ends up published in a local magazine — immortalized hideousness for eternity.

Inside the theater, guests were milling around, many showing off their gowns and chatting with friends. The lights flickered at 10 minutes until show time. I was excited.

I’ve been to the theater many times. I’ve seen the full dress rehearsal of the opera, as well, but something about the lights flickering, with everyone in fancy dress and makeup, made it an event … something more magical.

We took our seats, and the lights went out. The stage lights came on, and I remembered why I adore performance so much: It is the fantasy of being transported from my seat to the stage. It is the same feeling that makes Michel Gondry films magical, but watching an opera is different because part of this experience includes being moved by the power of the human voice.

An opera singer is as much an actor as an instrument — probably more instrument than actor. The performers who played Tosca and her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, Kara Shay Thomson and Jonathan Burton, were magnificent. Both had voices that rattled the theater, and Puccini’s work highlighted those qualities perfectly; there were moments when listening to them sing made me hold my breath. When they finished, it was the equivalent of being dropped or pushed forcefully back into my seat. “Tosca” is a performance for powerful singers, and the cast did not disappoint.

My first opening night was perfect. Seeing “Tosca” added to my interest in Puccini’s dealings with the women in his life, his “little gardens,” as he called them. The documentation of his affairs is great. He told a lot of tales and wrote many letters.

After the opera, the party at Theatre Square Marketplace was the perfect opportunity to meet the cast, compliment their work, and to indulge more. I indulged in cranberry juice and people-watching before finally realizing I was tired from a long evening, thoroughly satisfied with my first opera opening, and anticipating which I’d like to see next.

Erica Rucker is a freelance weirdo, writer and professional wedding/portrait photographer at eElaine Photography.