In all honesty, I'm a sucker for portmanteaus. Having based my decision to go almost entirely on that I just think it's funny to combine words with other words, I really had no idea what to expect going into Operapocalypse at the Boulder International Fringe Festival -- and wasn't quite sure what I'd just got when it was over. Certainly, considering the venue (the upstairs room of a church), the cheerful hamminess of the players and the performance's rambling assemblage of parts, there was an unavoidable element of pageantry to the whole thing; If you closed your eyes, you could almost see a teacher mouthing the words up there at the upright piano. But if it was festooned with a certain childlike goofiness, it was some of the most adroit childlike goofiness I've seen.
"I got this concept from a program I did in Los Angeles last year, OperaWorks, that's been going on for about 25 years," said Kristin Gornstein, the mezzo-soprano who, along with a cast of four other professional opera singers and three able musicians, led up the effort. "It's kind of like a camp for opera singers."
Here's the concept: The performance is basically a series of popular songs with some kind of plot thrown in to unite them. The idea is that it's a way to showcase the singing of the performers, who are pretty much singing whatever songs they want, and then trying to tie those songs together with a not-necessarily-coherent plot that essentially operates as a post-script. "We just try to take songs people will recognize and put a new twist on them," said Gornstein.
And though I'll admit that I'm not the world's foremost opera expert, there were some recognizable tunes -- like, for example, the "Flower Duet" from Lakmé, here performed as a trio. Think you don't know it? Yeah, you do:
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Of course, I didn't know that going in, and throughout the performance, when I wasn't being blown away by the bang-up performances of what amounted to something like the greatest hits of opera -- "popera," if you will (they also threw in a couple of cabaret tunes) -- I struggled to make sense of what was going on, particularly since the language of the tunes ran the gamut from Italian to French to German to English. It had something to do with a young man finding fellow travelers in a post-apocalyptic world of the future, but whatever; I decided that wasn't the point. And it turns out it wasn't.
For Gornstein, and for her colleagues, it was a way to have fun with what they do as professionals -- "I officially don't have another job as of last month," noted Gornstein. And though they all do it for work, none of them had performed in the Fringe before. Gornstein said they had signed up "on a whim."
Indeed, Operapocalypse was nothing if not whimsical. And Gornstein's summation of her motives for putting on the performance was just as charming: "You know," she said, "the more I do stuff like this, the easier it is to do the shittier jobs."