Before tonight, I had never been to an opera. The idea of attending one has always felt like a faraway dream; so alien to me is the concept of high society, or even adulthood, that I could never really picture myself amongst Opera-Goers. Not sure how to dress, I assumed a hyper-formal ensemble: a blazer and starched white blouse, dress slacks and sensible kitten heels I’d bought for a funeral last year.
I was shocked to find that the Kerrytown Concert House is an actual house. The place wasn’t the cathedral-like, built-in-the-1800s monster of a building with an elaborately painted ceiling that I was for some reason expecting. I’ve probably seen Phantom of the Opera too many times to realize opera can be performed on a stage of any size. The room was shining though, with a beautiful Steinway front and center and a smooth hardwood floors. Though I was definitely the youngest attendee, I felt at home in the audience, if a bit overdressed for the occasion. Again, I have not so much as dipped a toe into the opera world, so I had no idea what to expect.
This opera was not at all what I expected.
Much of the tone was humorous, even whimsically off-beat. While singing, melodic and haunting in its trio harmony, comprised much of the performance, there was far more dialouge than I had thought there would be. This is refreshing; many musicals I’ve been in and attended have been overpowered by song, which despite its vocal quality is typically incomprehensible. The speaking sections add the dimension sirens are denied in literature.
Kate Soper (writer of the opera as well as the actress playing Polyxo) relates her characters to links in an evoluntionary lineage. Polyxo needs escape, from the literal island but also the prison of the stereotypes of her kind; Peitho is younger and more naive, full of love for sailors that pass her way, but beginning to question how she’s viewed; Phiano is the cavewoman of the group, incapable of thinking beyond the island and what she’s been made out to be. Led by Polyxo, the opera investigates what it means to be so severely misunderstood that those around you begin to internalize the message they hear repeated over and over.
This idea does not end with Greek mythology. Its meaning extends out through the larger world: just as the sirens have been framed in a negative light, so do we draw caricatures based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation. And those whose faces are drawn with exaggerated features might begin to think like Polyxo, or maybe Peitho, and some, sadly, like Phiano.
If you are interested in upcoming performances at the Kerrytown Concert House, check out their website www.kerrytownconcerthouse.com.