By Kim Lyle
Two characters, both cynical towards the idea of love and marriage, become quickly infatuated with one another causing their stubborn beliefs vanish.
This is the plot of Béatrice et Bénédict. The opera’s dialogue comes from the writings of Shakespeare (namely Much Ado About Nothing) and is set to music created by the 19th century composer Berlioz. The vocals were performed entirely in French, with subtitles presented above the stage.
The typical Shakespearean themes of love, betrayal, humor, and deceit were all delightfully present throughout the showing.
Equally intriguing was the constantly altered set, which mirrored the action on stage. Trees rose out of sight and later reappeared, in rhythm to the exposed vulnerabilities of the lead characters. Towards the end there was little left to hide behind. Performers walked on a round section of grass at the center of the stage, reminiscent of how the human condition often comes full circle.
Cast in the leading roles of Béatrice and Bénédict were LSU graduate students Christina Casey and Jonathan Ray, respectively. They were supported by a cast of rich characters, played by some of the greatest talents to emerge from the LSU School of Music in years.
On stage the actors made their performances appear effortless, however a lot went on behind the scenes in preparation for opening day.
“This show has proved to be more challenging than previous shows I’ve done,” Ray said. “For me personally, I had to find a way to honor the exact music written while still making it feel like it’s my own thoughts being expressed. Then it’s all a matter of finding chemistry with your stage partners and negotiating the costuming and set challenges to make everything feel as organic as it possibly can. Fortunately, I have many fine colleagues who made the process so much easier for me.”
“The most challenging part was learning how to recite Shakespeare lines in a way that makes sense not only to yourself, but to your audience,” added Casey.
On top of the usual difficulties, performers had to sing lyrics in French. For non-native speakers, embracing the foreign language was an additional challenge.
“I do not speak French fluently – In fact, it’s by far my weakest of the three major languages we study as operatic singers (the others being Italian and German),” said Ray. “It’s a matter of listening to professionals doing it, writing in translations and, if necessary, diction symbols, and repetition, repetition, repetition!”
All of the performers are also full time students at LSU, which can call for quite the balancing act between books and rehearsal.
“It’s intense to say the least,” said Ray. “Our professors expect a great deal from us, as they well should. The standard is set high from the beginning. We have a certain reputation at LSU that we are expected to live up to.“
“It is tremendous amount of work,” added Casey. “But, it is extremely rewarding because we get to study and do what we love every single day, and hopefully touch a few lives in the process.”
It is through the relentless dedication and passion of the actors that such esteemed plays are able to showcase at LSU. Performing opera is not just an everyday task, but a labor of love for these students who push each other succeed.
“The rehearsal process can make or break you,” noted Ray. “It’s thanks to our many great colleagues and collaborative artists on staff that we are able to not only survive, but come out of it stronger than we were when we went into it. At the end of the day, there’s nothing else in the world like it.”