The big cushioned theatre seat engulfed me, a tiny little girl in a pink tulle-and-satin party gown. Sitting with my parents in the front row, I leaned toward my mother so I could hear her whisper the story in my ear as it unfolded on stage.
I learned to love opera when I was a mere 4. My father co-founded the Denver Grand Opera Company that performed operas with Metropolitan Opera stars from 1933 until 1951 at the Denver Auditorium, now the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. My mother was fluent in Italian and French, having been raised in Italy, so she translated for me, and I remember her emotions reflected in the arias — they ran the gamut from romantic (“La Boheme”) to comedic (“Barber of Seville”) to sad (“Madame Butterfly”) to scary (“Faust”).
Most people were not as lucky as I. They may avoid opera because they don’t understand it, literally, nor do they appreciate the music. Knowing the story and its historical background and learning about the composer and the music greatly enhance the enjoyment of a performance and brings highbrow a little more mid-brow.
Today, Opera Colorado makes it easy to fall in love with the genre. Even though it presents every production in its original language, the company makes sure you understand everything that goes on up on the stage.
The Ellie Caulkins Opera House is equipped with the Figaro Simultext System, an electronic screen positioned on the back of each seat that displays the English or Spanish translations of the words being sung in Italian (or French or German). So a quick glance from the stage to the seat back in front of you keeps you in the story line, which in opera usually contains sub-plots within sub-plots. You choose your language of preference; or, if you’d rather not have the screen at all, just hit the button. There’s no ambient glow to create a distraction to the other patrons. Even if you’ve read the libretto beforehand, knowing the words being sung can greatly enhance the enjoyment of the performance.
Opera Colorado and the Santa Fe Opera are the only two opera companies in the country using the Figaro System. Others are in Europe: La Scala in Milan; Wiener Staatsoper in Vienna; Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, and Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London.
Also, before each performance, Betsy Schwarm, longtime KVOD producer/announcer and professor of music appreciation at Metropolitan State College in Denver, presents an informational background of the opera and its composer that helps with understanding and appreciating what you are about to see and hear. These free half-hour talks begin one hour before curtain time in the auditorium of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.
Another way to better understand opera is to stay after a performance to ask questions of Greg Carpenter, Opera Colorado’s general director, and Brad Trexell, director of artistic planning. This free lively discussion lasts about 20 minutes and takes place in the first few rows of the main floor seating area immediately after the show. Questions can be about the performance itself or about opera in general.
So make an entire evening out of your opera night. It will add greatly to your pleasure and get you hooked into the magical, musical world of opera.
If You Go
695 S. Colorado Blvd.
Denver, Colorado 80246
Claudia Carbone is a freelance writer who lives in Denver, Colorado.