City Opera Vancouver says on its website that it's possible for opera to tell any story in any time and place. In that spirit, the professional chamber opera company will be at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre on Thursday (November 4) to deliver opera at, of all things, a Marx Brothers movie.
This isn't just any Marx Brothers film—it's the riotously funny A Night at the Opera, a 1935 classic that's been preserved in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry for its cultural, historic, and aesthetic significance.
City Opera Vancouver's interactive concert—featuring mezzo-soprano Megan Latham and tenor Martin Renner Wallace—will launch this year's Chutzpah! Festival, which runs from November 4 to 24. They'll sing the music parodied in the film, accompanied by pianist Roger Parton and a "special guest"
That will be followed by a screening of the movie.
In a phone interview with the Straight, City Opera Vancouver's director of concerts, Alan Corbishley, said that there will be a "few little antics" throughout their performance, but certainly nothing that will upstage the Marx Brothers.
"We're not trying to be the Marx Brothers by any stretch of the imagination," Corbishley emphasized.
The aforementioned special guest will be Corbishley himself, impersonating U.S. actor Margaret Dumont, who played opposite the Marx Brothers in seven of their movies. That included a smash performance as Mrs. Claypool in A Night at the Opera.
"She was always the one who never seems to get the joke," Corbishley noted. "That will certainly be kind of the leading factor of her character."
Audience members are also encouraged to dress up as Margaret Dumont or as either Groucho, Harpo, Chico, or Zeppo. The winner of the costume contest will win a Chutzpah! Fetival all-access pass.
Corbishley pointed out that how people sang back then and the style of the stage were very different from what people see in opera nowadays.
"Exposing the silliness, I think, is kind of fun for an audience—to understand that we are poking fun at what was and the genre itself," he said.
As City Opera Vancouver's director of concerts, Corbishley's goal is to make this art form very accessible and less intimidating for audiences.
"Even though there may be a little bit of a language barrier, we can transcend that in how we frame the music or how we frame the concert," he added. "So this [show] kind of helps us along the road—and in a fun way that just doesn't feel pretentious.
"It doesn't feel antiquated," he continued. "It feels a little bit more fresh."