Symphony in the Valley visits opera realm | AspenTimes.com

Symphony in the Valley visits opera realm

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen, CO Colorado

Symphony in the Valley, the community orchestra centered in Glenwood Springs, is about to take its first dive into opera in the organization’s 14-year history.

One would suspect that singers and vocal issues are foremost on the mind of Wendy Larson, the orchestra’s artistic director and conductor of the opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors.” But the vocal aspect is actually a ways down on the list of her concerns as Symphony in the Valley brings Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera about the birth of Christ to performances this weekend in Snowmass Village and Glenwood Springs.

The first thing Larson mentions is the stamina factor. “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” which tells of Jesus’ birth through the eyes of a poor, crippled boy, is not particularly long. Originally composed for a television broadcast on Christmas Eve 1951, it runs just 40 minutes. But that can be a taxing amount for a community orchestra.

“Opera, because it’s constant music all the time, there’s no rest for the orchestra,” said Larson. “In musical theater, they put their instruments down between numbers. This is constantly, continuously playing.

“What’s good is, this is a good introduction ” 40 minutes, one scene, one setting.”

Next comes the coordination factor. The typical symphonic piece involves two elements, the orchestra and the conductor. Opera brings in a third component, the actors, which makes precise timing trickier and more critical. Symphony in the Valley got some practice with “The Nutcracker,” which it has presented the last two years in conjunction with the Glenwood Dance Academy.

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“Whenever you do something where you have to fit the tempos into someone else singing or dancing, coordinating that adds a whole different dimension to what the orchestra can do,” said Larson, who is assisted in the production by director John Goss. “A dancer can only stay up in the air so long.”

Symphony in the Valley continually has been stretching its abilities. Earlier this year, the orchestra performed the grand oratorio, “Carmina Burana.” Last fall, they participated in the Tribute to John Denver concerts at the Wheeler Opera House, accompanying seasoned singers, including Kathy Mattea. “For us to be on stage with those guys ” they are so professional. We had to play in tune,” Larson said.

Regarding the vocals for “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” Larson is putting much of her trust in the opera’s vocal director, Paul Dankers. Larson and Dankers, both former teachers in the Aspen public schools, have worked together in the past. Dankers himself will sing the role of one of the Three Kings, who visit Amahl’s house on their way to welcome the baby Jesus. The other two kings are played by experienced vocalists: Scott MacCracken and Lee Sullivan. Basalt eighth-grader Corbin Grainger plays Amahl, with Maureen Jackson, a former member of the Crystal Palace cast, as Amahl’s mother.

The concerts also will feature a selection of holiday tunes, including “Adeste Fidelis,” “Coventry Carol,” “Ave Maria,” “Joy to the World” and more.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” Larson, who conducted “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in Aspen 30 years ago in a production sponsored by Colorado Mountain College, finds the piece a perfect introduction to opera for Symphony in the Valley. The melodies, she says, are “beautiful, not way out there like some contemporary operas.” Further, the opera is one act, has a story that will be familiar to all listeners, it’s not three hours long, and it’s in English.

“We couldn’t pull off Mozart or Rossini,” Larson said.

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail is stewart@aspentimes.com.

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