Blanton and UT Faculty Chamber Ensemble collaborate to put on untraditional opera show

Allison Harris

The Blanton Museum of Art echoed with voices Sunday as about 200 people attended a second annual performance by the Butler Opera Center.

The opera performance was the first of five concerts organized this year by the Blanton and the UT Faculty Ensemble, which is part of the School of Music. Faculty Ensemble has collaborated with the Blanton for the past five years. The show did not include traditional opera costumes or scenery and featured piano for accompaniment instead of an orchestra.

Graduate opera and voice students performed scenes from “The Consul” by Gian Carlo Menotti, an opera the Center will perform in its entirety later this month. The event also included music from four 19th-century French operas to coincide with the French drawings exhibition the Blanton opened last month.

“A lot of the operas that are famous in their name — ‘Carmen,’ ‘The Pearl Fishers,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Faust’ — are often in the latter part of the 19th century,” said Kelly Kuo, acting musical director for the Butler Opera Center.

Butler Opera Center director Robert DeSimone said the event gave music students a unique performance opportunity.

“The students need to readapt themselves to being in the parameters of a different kind of space,” DeSimone said. “They don’t have scenery, costumes, orchestra and lots of things like that, so it’s a new kind of experience for them.”

DeSimone said the event would benefit people interested in opera or vocal performance.

“This is the perfect vehicle to come and sit through a program that is not exceedingly long where you can hear different voices — soprano, tenor, baritone, alto-soprano,” DeSimone said.

Blanton public programs manager Aimee Chang said the program could help introduce people to opera in a manageable way.

“You can have specific scenes and you have a story behind it, but you’re not committing to a whole opera,” Chang said. “You’re getting bits of different operas.”

Chang said the performance reflects the strong connection between music and visual art, which influenced 20th-century artists.

“The whole idea of abstract art was actually very connected to music,” she said. “There was connection of thinking about how music influenced people and how it occupied space and thinking about how art could do that as well.”

Music professor Rose Taylor said she was particularly impressed by graduate music performance student Christina Caldas’ solo from “The Consul.” Caldas played Magda Sorel, a woman facing bureaucratic difficulties at a consulate’s office as she tries to join her husband, who left the country to escape political oppression.

“She was not on stage, she was not in costume but she inhabited the character,” Taylor said. “You could believe that she was this woman going through this very terrible nightmare of trying to save herself, her mother, her child.”

Graduate anthropology student Ernest Alba said the impact of the performances was not lessened by the lack of costumes and staging.

“Ultimately, the emotional experience is the most important one, and I feel it translated just as well here as in the opera house,” Alba said. “Superficially, it’s very different, but if you look deeper, it’s still high-quality opera.”

Printed on October 10, 2011: Museum hosts nontraditional opera