It’s a feature unique to opera – three, four, or even seven characters at odds with each other all singing together. Mozart did it brilliantly in the act two finale of The Marriage of Figaro and Verdi in act two of Falstaff (with five simultaneous texts). A cacophony of personalities joined in perfect harmony.
To be sure, teamwork is key in the performing arts, as it is in sports. But when they say, “there are no small parts, only small actors,” it’s because we must bring everything we are as individuals to the group endeavor. To be homogenous without first being autonomous is to be like sheep.
Robert M. Pirsig was wise in this regard. The smallest action, done with intent and care, can be a masterpiece. This is the core of the artisan movement, where, for example, a single cup of coffee is prepared with great precision (and at a precious price point). Sing a simple song – but as if your life depends on it.
Opera by definition forges a single work out of many. At San Francisco Opera Guild, our mission “Giving Voice to Potential” suggests that each and every individual has something rare and important to contribute. But contribute we must in the service of a greater whole – in our Summer Conservatory, to the realization of a culminating performance.
Dido and Aeneas, with its ample choruses, group dances, and numerous supporting roles, is fertile ground for individuals to blossom amidst ensemble. Our 24 Conservatory students, who studied and performed Dido this summer, bear witness to this democracy of opera.