In its latest production, Opera in the Heights puts its own twist on the 1889 opera Orfeo ed Euridice. Stage director Leslie Swackhamer opted to forgo Grecian influences and traded togas for tuxedos.
“[My costume] is vaguely inspired from 1930 films and pictures of Marlene Dietrich in male drag in a tuxedo, and that’s the look they’re going for,” says lead opera singer, Laura Coale.
The monochromatic set uses black, white and greys to add to the Art Deco–like atmosphere. Playing with strong shadow effects and rolling staircases, Opera in the Heights adds visual depth to one of the oldest Greek myths about death.
“We’re using lighting to give off the different areas and emotion and the set. We’ve never done this at Opera in the Heights, so it’s really cool,” explains Coale. “There’s rigging where we can hang big pieces of fabric that will move and can detach, so you can do lighting on them and have big shadow effects.”
The venue that seats about 300 is connected to a church and once served as a sanctuary. The intimate space gives each audience member a seat directly in all the action.
“You could literally be sitting right underneath the stairs, you know. So there are no bad seats in the house. We have a balcony and that’s great too because you get kind of a bigger picture, but the sound is still the same,” Coale says.
Unlike traditional opera houses, the orchestra is not hidden in a pit. Instead, the audience members get a full look at the production. “They are off to the side, so you get full view of them as well, which is kind of cool,” Coale says.
Keeping true to the original script, the opera is preformed in Italian. Playing Orfeo, Coale began preparations in late August by translating every word with the intent of knowing exactly what is being sung at every moment.
“I kind of talk it through in my own language what I’m saying and then I talk it through again in Italian, so it becomes almost second nature. The music also helps to connect it to the text, so I have a deeper meaning and it’s easier to memorize,” adds Coal, an alum of University of Houston’s Vocal Performance program.
April 8, 14 & 16 at 7:30. April 10 at 2. $13–63. Opera in the Heights, 1703 Heights Blvd. 713-861-5303. operaintheheights.org