The year is 1914, and the Great War engulfs Europe. Spain, in spite of declaring its neutrality in the Great War, is experiencing civil strife. In this setting the University Opera Association presents a new, modernized production of one of Verdi’s greatest and best-loved operas, Il Trovatore [pronounced eel troh-vah-toh-ray].
Il Trovatore and the Great War
The opera was originally set in the 15th century, but Dr. Darren Lawson, dean of the School of Fine Arts and Communication and director for Il Trovatore, felt that this year’s production needed an update. He wanted a setting that audiences could identify with and better understand. So he started researching Spanish history to find a period that would fit the opera’s plot.
March 13, 15, 17 at 8 p.m.
As he researched, Dr. Lawson read historian Francisco J. Romero Salvadó’s description of Spain during the Great War: “The official neutrality of the state did not save its political system. Spain did not enter the war, but the war entered Spain, and its economic and political impact eroded the fragile foundations of the political system which had so far been based on the passivity and subservience of the population.” This description fit the opera perfectly.
Setting the stage
As he played with the idea of setting the opera in 1914, Dr. Lawson got very excited about the creative possibilities this period offered. However, with the possibilities came complexities. Everything from costumes to visual themes needed to be woven into the opera in a consistent and believable way.
Added to this complexity, says Dr. Lawson, is the fact that Il Trovatore has one of the most convoluted plots of any opera. The opera builds on a background story that happens 15 years earlier, but this story is not normally portrayed in the opera. It’s easy for the audience to miss the story and, ultimately, misunderstand the opera.
Dr. Lawson didn’t want this to happen, so he looked for a creative solution to this dilemma. He found the answer in silent films, which were just emerging during the time of World War I. As characters tell their stories, stylized silent film footage will be projected on the set to give a glimpse into their minds and help the audience follow the plot.
Experiencing the opera
From the moment the audience enters Rodeheaver Auditorium, they will be immersed in the atmosphere of Spain in 1914. Historic photographs and trivia will be projected on stage to help set the historic framework for the opera.
The stark concrete and steel set will give the feeling of an industrializing Spain, and sounds of the era will also play in the background in conjunction with images on screen. The entire experience is designed to draw the audience into the period.
History trivia will be projected on stage prior to the opera, and an opera quiz will be projected during intermission. The goal is to help the audience further understand and appreciate the world of opera and to further educate the audience on the historical setting.
Published March 7, 2012