Opera and cocktails: what’s not to like, right? That’s what I told myself anyway as I headed upstairs to the union’s Beacon Bar on Friday night. I must admit I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. The event, organised by the St Andrews’ very own Opera Society, was billed as an informal night of “operatic highlights” which was “perfect for opera buffs and newbies alike”. I was firmly in the latter category.
As I entered, I found Beacon Bar already packed with people and I struggled to find a seat. As a relative newcomer to Opera, I was surprised to find such a relaxed and warm atmosphere, and I can confirm there was not a pair of opera glasses in the house. Instead, the friendly atmosphere immediately put me at ease and set the tone for the night to come.
As the music started, it was clear the performers were talented vocalists, but what I was unprepared for was the skill of their acting and presentation too. From the event description, I had been expecting more of an ‘open mic night’ set-up, but instead, the performers had blocked out scenes of acting and played up comedic lines to engage and draw in the audience. For example, during the opening piece of Act Two, Rossini’s Duetto Buffo Di Due Gatti, the audience was filled with laughter as Kristel Knudsen and Imogen Welsh performed as two cats who repeatedly sang the word “meow” over and over again, complete with ironic glances to the audience.
Equally impressive was the rendition of Mozart’s Soave Sia Il Vento, performed by Fanny Empacher, Mira Mansfield and Fabien Troivaux which provided a gentle contrast to the more comedic pieces. I found the piece intensely relaxing after a long week of deadlines, and even though I couldn’t understand all of the Italian lyrics, the careful acting and use of small gestures helped to indicate some of the story against the modern backdrop of Beacon Bar.
Imogen Walsh, a 4th year French and Russian student who performed in several pieces on the night, highlighted the effort that was made to make the night inclusive to all. When asked, for example, how pieces were chosen for the evening, she pointed out that performers chose pieces which they thought would be open and engaging for all audience members, and not simply based on showcasing technical difficulty, such as the Rossini’s cat duet.
Overall, it was clear that the event was designed to cater for both opera enthusiasts and newcomers to the genre. Committee members gave helpful synopsis of the more complicated pieces beforehand, while the tasters of different styles helped to keep the audience engaged. Above all, the relaxed atmosphere, both among the performers as well as in the audience, helped to break down the perceived ‘stuffiness’ of opera: not an easy task in itself. In future, the society should aim to emulate the success of the night and encourage more of the student population to give the genre a go.