By Ramiro Bustamante Torres, December 7 2023—
On Nov. 24, Calgary Opera debuted a new opera based on the music of Vittorio Giannini. Performed at the Mamdani Opera Centre, Beauty and the Beast is based on the fairytale of the same name, where a prince is transformed into a terrifying beast by a curse unless someone can love him despite his appearance. The opera was originally performed in 1938 for a radio broadcast on CBS with the libretto written by Robert A. Smith in English. With familiar characters and a run time of 45 minutes, the performance is perfect for families to go and experience opera together.
While the main story can be recognized there are differences in the opera compared to the musical stage production or the animated film most people would associate with the story. As a shorter performance, the story is condensed and events are rushed, but the performers played their roles with artistic expression. Beauty (Christina Thanisch-Smith) and the Beast (Arieh Max Sacke) had interesting arias that developed their characters. Thanisch-Smith was high and bright with her voice and her personality seemed to shine through. Sacke stood out in voice and costume: as the Beast, he bore a resemblance to a feathered dragon, which I was surprised the children present weren’t terrified of. The inclusion of two sisters (Nicole Leung and Justine Ledoux) gave the impression they might have had an important role to play in the plot, but mostly they were around to comfort the Father (Connor Hoppenbrouwers) when Beauty leaves to stay with the Beast. The Gardener (Elias Theocharidis) and the Spirits/Voices (Jillian Clow, Branden Olsen and Theocharidis) were other additions that felt out of place but were merely props for the plot. Clow also played the Narrator at the beginning and end of the opera, offering much-needed exposition.
Named the “Night Garden,” the stage was small but full of possibilities as it shifted between the home of Beauty, the garden of roses and the castle of the Beast. With the use of projections, the stage even changed to a carriage ride. With a more personal performance, there was the opportunity for the actors to walk along the aisles of the audience, creating a more immersive experience. There were moments when the Voices sang from around the audience, which was a great use of the space and kept the audience engaged. Since the stage was open and there were no curtains to help with scene changes, the changes felt out of place but it worked for a production team of this size.
The simplicity of the opera allows it to be open to a broader audience, which brings in an audience that doesn’t have to fear not knowing what is happening and can enjoy the opera form. The opera will be available in digital format for the Digital School Tour. This way, schools will be able to present a short form of opera for students to learn and enjoy. It is not only available for schools but for people who enjoyed it and want to see it again. Beauty and the Beast will be available in digital format in 2024.
To find out more information about Calgary Opera and their upcoming performances, visit their website.