Forget everything you thought you knew about opera — that it’s long, that it’s not particularly accessible, that it’s written in a foreign language.
Because next week, Utah Opera is presenting its “10-minute Opera” programs in Brigham City, Ogden and Salt Lake City, and the event will be noticeably different from your typical opera production.
“We’re calling them 10-minute operas, although a couple push that envelope and are closer to 15 minutes,” explained Carol Anderson, the music director and conductor for the performance. “But these are just wonderful little vignettes.”
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Utah Opera is presenting four projects selected for its Commissioned Opera project. The four pieces touch on themes of the railroad, transportation and immigration, and all were created by composers and librettists with ties to the state.
Performances will be held on Monday at the Fine Arts Center in Brigham City; on Tuesday in the Browning Auditorium at Ogden’s Union Station; and on Wednesday at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets, although required, are free and available through UtahOpera.org.
According to information provided by Utah Opera, the short works performed next week will include:
• “Completing the Picture,” by composer Michael Ching and librettist Victoria Panella Bourns. While many men posed in the historic photograph of the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Summit, no Chinese were in the picture. This opera attempts to fill in the larger picture of the human involvement on the building of the railroad.
• “The Stone, the Tree and the Bird,” by composer Jacob Lee and librettist Christine McDonough. This piece centers around a campfire conversation between three transcontinental workers the night before the golden spike ceremony. They dream and plan what’s next now that the railroad is complete.
• “Burial,” by composer Tony Solitro and librettist Paisley Rekdal. “Burial features a confrontation between a town mayor and a cafe owner about how to appropriately bury and honor Chinese men who helped build the railroad. Exploring themes of belonging and identity, the piece asks “Are the dead Chinese to be treated as Asian aliens or American workers?”
• “No Ladies in the Lady’s Book,” by composer Lisa Despain and librettist Rachel Peters. This short comic opera looks at the largely unsung contributions of women to the success of the transcontinental railroad.
Anderson said the pieces are designed to highlight those groups who don’t always get credit for the work they did in making the transcontinental railroad a reality.
“One of the things we wanted to have is to honor those under-represented groups,” she said.
The four operas will offer great variety for audience members.
“You get a real taste of opera with these four vignettes,” Anderson said. “It’s four very different musical styles, four different themes and moods for each piece … It’s like a little tasting menu.”
What’s more, the tone of each piece is varied. Anderson says one is wistful, one is educational, one is intensely emotional, and one is humorous.
Anderson hopes audience members will enjoy these little tastes of opera and feel a desire to check out other offerings by Utah Opera.
“We’re thrilled to add another facet to this Spike 150 celebration,” she said. “I really want people to take these little bites, and I hope it will inspire people in discovering more about this art form.”
Sometimes opera is thought of as a “spectacle,” according to Anderson, with large casts and elaborate sets and costumes. But in this case, it’s four performers — all operatically trained — with a small group of musicians. Two of the pieces will be accompanied by piano, while the other two will add violin, cello and clarinet.
And everything is sung in English.
“With these small venues we can’t offer supertitles,” Anderson said. “We’re working very hard on diction so that the words will be as clear as a bell.”
In addition to next week’s performances, these short opera vignettes will be performed in community concerts and “random acts of opera” over the next few seasons, according to a news release from Utah Opera.