During the weekend before Eugene Opera’s opening of “Béatrice and Bénédict” on Oct 28, the lead singers and the chorus gathered for a busy day of rehearsal with director Mark Beudert in a vacant commercial space in downtown Eugene.
Many of the leads had just arrived from elsewhere and needed to make quick trips down the block for coffee at Allann Bros. Beanery — “Go left to the jail and turn right” were the instructions to a newcomer who hadn’t spent much time in Eugene before — and all were happy to talk about being in this particular production.
“Why fall for this plot?” Brendan Tuohy, playing Bénédict, asked rhetorically about the story line, based on William Shakespeare’s farcical comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Because it’s “quirky, well-written and so much fun,” he answered himself.
Emily Way, who plays Héro, cousin and best friends to Béatrice, played by Melina Pyron, agreed.
“It’s just a breath of fresh air,” Way said with a laugh, “especially after a lot of the political stuff we’ve had to experience lately with the elections.”
But another reason all of the singers are relishing “Béatrice and Bénédict” is that it is being performed as a “chamber opera,” meaning that it’s done in a much smaller space than the traditional grand opera, with scaled-down stages, minimalist sets and basic costumes without a lot of wigs, flounces and pancake makeup.
The main advantage, most agree, is a more intimate performance that creates a bond between the performers and the audience.
Eugene Opera introduced chamber opera to its lineup a year ago, adding two of the the more basic productions, “The Turn of the Screw” and “Little Women,” to its usual season of two grand opera productions.
Tuohy had a lead role in “The Turn of the Screw” and relished what he experienced.
“I love the size and the way the performers and the audience are so much closer together,” he said. “For the singers, the preparation for the role is the same, but there’s much more of a feeling about how the audience is responding to the show.”
Chamber opera “seems to be a trend,” he said. “I think people want to come and experience a show that looks and feels more real.”
Pyron, in the part of Béatrice, has the same feelings about chamber opera.
“It seems to be the direction many operas are taking, and the audiences seem to love it,” she said. “It’s also good because it’s ‘natural’ music, without amplification. To me, there’s such a difference between the human body feeling the human voice instead of having the sound coming through a speaker.”
That’s not to imply that she dislikes amplified productions, Pyron said, “but I just think the music that is truly live is warmer and has more overtones.”
The smaller spaces of chamber opera also allow the singers to emphasize quality over quantity in their performances, she said.
“If you don’t have to push your voice to fill a large concert space, you can sing differently,” Pyron said. There’s a saying for that in vocal training circles, she said: “Singing on interest instead of capital.”
She’s never sung the role of Béatrice before, but she said she loves it.
“She’s so spunky, like a person who is witty and can come up instantly with a great response,” Pyron said. “I also love that Béatrice and Bénédict are such good sparring partners — they have lots of conflicts, but there is really no other partner for either of them.”
Composer Hector Berlioz, who adapted the Shakespeare play and wrote the libretto himself, may have had the same concept of his characters.
“In Latin, Béatrice means ‘she who blesses,’ and Bénédict means ‘he who is blessed,’ “ Pyron said.
Béatrice and Bénédict
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30
Where: Soreng Theater, Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Willamette Street and Seventh Avenue in downtown Eugene
Tickets: $34 to $54; Hult Center box office or Eugene Opera, 541-682-5000
Information: 541-485-3985 or firstname.lastname@example.org