By Maleesa Johnson
The Prohibition era is returning to Baylor through Baylor Opera Theater’s exhibition of the “Underground Opera: The Roaring Twenties,” an event aimed to make opera more audience-friendly.
“I want to first of all present a program that is accessible to everybody,” said Octavio Cardenas director of Baylor Opera Theater. “Sometimes people are kind of intimidated by opera. So this way we may be able to attract those kinds of people.”
Cardenas said he plans to carry out this goal with the repertoire. It centers on music from the Prohibition era and several decades beyond, with works from popular musicians of their time, including Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin and more.
To begin the evening, the Opera Theater will perform Joe Garland’s “In the Mood” followed by “Mack the Knife” from The Three-Penny Opera by Kurt Weill.
Other songs include “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “They Are Writing Songs of Love” by the Gershwin brothers as well as works by Berlin such as “Stepping Out with My Baby” and “Putting on the Ritz.”
“All of the songs tell a story; they are all like little mini-operas,” Cardenas said. “They require a very full voice and you have to be very expressive. I’m using this as a vehicle to make students more expressive on the stage and we’re doing it through English, which is their own language, which to me is the best way to learn how to be expressive on stage — in your own language. Another reason why we are using this repertoire.”
The pianist for the event, Stephanie Mettler, also acknowledges the difference of this opera in comparison to others. She said the event would show a side of opera that average people who do not typically listen to opera could relate to.
“It’s a compilation of love songs and other songs that show the underside of life,” Mettler said. “A lot of it is from the Prohibition era and I find it easy to connect with. It connects music to life.”
Mettler said the preparation has been intense. The Opera Theater began working on the show last fall and started rehearsing for it in February.
Last semester, The Opera Theater presented “Rita” by Gaetano Donizetti. Cardenas said it was well attended and that he hopes to grow this audience.
“We could always use more,” Cardenas said. “I really hope more people show up. We are trying to build an audience, and so far all of our shows have been very well attended.”
The push for a greater audience is to educate them on another art form.
Though opera may not be the most common art form in America, Cardenas said it is important for multiple reasons.
“To me, it is an art form that requires all forms of art,” Cardenas said. “Dancing, singing, music, theater, painting for the sets, costume design. It’s a very complete form of art.”
The “Underground Opera: The Roaring Twenties” starts today at 7:30 p.m. followed by another performance Saturday night at the same time. The event is free and open to the public.