Dress Rehearsal on Alcina’s Island

Photos by Carol Pratt

Patron emails usually skew toward the negative. When people are jazzed up enough to bother to write, it’s often because they have a score to settle. So it’s a welcome surprise when something like this (from a friend of a staff member, about last evening’s dress rehearsal) lands in my InBox.

The great thing about the arts is the small personal miracles they bring – not just for the artists but for the rest of us as well. Last night, while those of you behind the tables up front were so carefully and critically watching every detail of the dress rehearsal of Alcina, at least two of us in the audience were enthralled.

My husband and I are not new to opera but we haven’t been to an opera together in our 19 years of marriage. After my husband got back from a trip to Russia a number of years ago where he endured a 4-hour Russian opera, I figured that getting him to go to another opera was highly unlikely. That wasn’t a big deal to me because I hadn’t been to one in a very long time and didn’t feel like it was a hole in my life. You probably thought you were doing this dress rehearsal in front of an audience of opera buffs. Well, in fact, there were 2 non-opera buffs in the audience last night.

We headed out to Wolf Trap with me wondering if this was going to be our first and last opera together. The Barns, which we had never been to before, was perfect. We were in the second row and had no need for the opera glasses our daughter recommended (which we didn’t have anyway). However, before things got underway, I was having trouble understanding the synopsis – so many characters with names I couldn’t keep straight, so many twists and turns. There was a woman pretending to be a man as part of the plot, okay, I got that. But then when I looked at the cast, it also looked like there was a woman singing the part of a man. Hmmmmm. How was I going to keep that straight? Which one was which? And then the fact that there would be no supertitles! We sat back and hoped we could stay awake.

Staying awake turned out to be no problem. And following the plot (with help from the synopsis) turned out to be no problem as well – in fact, we both thought the supertitles would have been distracting. The performance swept us away. The orchestra was wonderful, the singers sublime, the setting was perfect (who knew an opera could be held in such an intimate place with such wonderful acoustics and sight lines?), the staging was wonderful, and the costumes were incredible – especially Alcina’s. It was simply a magical night for us.

I don’t know what knowledgeable critics will say about the performance, but for us it was perfect. We might just go see another opera at the Barns. After Alcina, it’s hard to imagine going to a larger auditorium since the up-close-and-personal feel was a big part of what made this experience so perfect for us.

If I achieve nothing else this season, this will have been enough.

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