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Arts & Culture
The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world. To listen to KPAC 88.3 FM, simply open the player in the gray ribbon at the top of this page and choose KPAC: Classical Music.

Opera Piccola Opens A Window Onto Suburban America In The 1950s

Janet Rogers

It’s a good time to be an opera fan in San Antonio. In addition to the newly-formed Opera San Antonio, Opera Piccola, led by longtime singer and impresario Mark Richter, opens their third season this weekend at the historic Empire Theatre. On the bill are two one-act operas that capture America in the 1950s.

“Trouble In Tahiti” is the more familiar of the two. Written in 1952 by Leonard Bernstein, the opera is a satire on the burgeoning suburban life of postwar America. “For anybody that watched ‘Desperate Housewives,’ we all remember what Wisteria Lane looked like,” says Opera Piccola’s music director, Kristin Roach. “What looks great on the outside sometimes on the inside has all kind of other things you don’t see until you walk inside the house.”

There are only two characters in the opera, the married couple Sam and Dinah, and a trio of singers also takes the stage to comment on the plot; the jazzy group sings in the style of a radio jingle. The plot follows the couple through one day of their lives, as they argue, daydream, and yearn for their youthful love for one another. Roach says they go through a range of emotions over the course of the opera.

“There’s a real tenderness to how they treat each other, and there’s a lot of hope, but there’s also a lot of despair. You can just tell over the years that these two people have forgotten how to make it work,” Roach explains.

Bernstein’s one-act is being paired with Lee Hoiby’s “The Italian Lesson,” based on a monologue by actress and dramatist Ruth Draper (1884-1956), whose work inspired a whole generation of writers, and whose one-woman monologues were recently revived onstage by Annette Bening. “Ruth Draper was able to entertain people with a table, a shawl, and a chair,” Roach points out. Opera Piccola’s set will be similarly sparse; the singer, Cindy Sadler, will be accompanied only by piano, played by Roach (the Bernstein opera features about a dozen instruments as backing).

“In this show, we’re presenting real people that these characters are based on....actual events that would have happened in people’s ordinary lives,” Roach says.

Asked what she loves about opera, Roach replies, “Basically, it’s about the story. It’s about telling the stories in a way that touches people’s lives.”

"Trouble In Tahiti" and "The Italian Lesson" will be performed on Saturday, Nov. 1 at 8pm and Sunday, Nov. 2 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available online.