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An Historic Opera Collaboration


The saying states that it takes a village to raise a child. Over the weekend of October 11th and 12th, 2014, it took more than a city to build an opera. A collaboration between five local dance companies, the Central Coast Children’s Choir, and Opera San Luis Obispo made possible an historic production of Aida at the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center on the Cal Poly SLO campus.

This year’s production of Aida required a diverse group of individuals from around the country. While the choruses and dancers were San Luis Obispo locals, the principal cast came from all over the United States. In addition, the production enlisted the talents of over fifty musicians, enough to fill the orchestra pit at the Cohan Center. The production enlisted a men’s chorus, a woman’s chorus, and a mixed chorus. The set was created by designers from San Francisco and then built locally. Individual residents of the city volunteered to house out-of-town artists in order to keep production costs down.

Five local dance companies were involved in this production: Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo, Civic Ballet San Luis Obispo, CORE Dance Company, Deyo Dances, and Studio @-Ryan’s American Dance. The individual dance companies choreographed each specific ballet sequence.

With so many groups involved, rehearsals were at first conducted separately. The combined talents were brought together during the busy last two weeks before the performances. A week before opening night, the “sitzprobe”, or “sitting trial”, took place; this is when the entire group gathered to go through the mechanics of the music. The technical rehearsal followed, where the ensemble took to the stage to work out the movements, the set pieces, and the lighting. Finally, there was the costume rehearsal, which preceded the final rehearsal.

The event exceeded the expectations of the opera company, with the house close to completely full. I received tickets as a gift from my father-in-law and thoroughly enjoyed the three and a half hour production. Singers Tracy Cox, Lauren Curnow, and Ben Gulley did a masterful job of recreating the tragic love triangle between a princess of Egypt, Amneris, a warrior of that country, Radames, and Aida, Amneris’ slave who is in actuality a princess of neighboring Ethiopia.

Although difficult to produce because of its grand scale, Aida is a popular opera, written by the celebrated composer Giuseppe Verdi and first produced at the Cairo Opera House in 1871. Within five years of its premiere, it was staged across the globe, and has remained part of the standard repertoire for opera companies ever since.

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