Opera in Eight Parts: Making it Happen

By: Lyric Opera Staff

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by Dr. William Everett


The unique challenges of 2020 have made us think up new and affirming projects in the midst of tremendous uncertainties and unknowns. I was honored and delighted to be part of one of these, Opera in Eight Parts, produced under the auspices of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. In planning and realizing almost any sort of media endeavor, the biggest question is always what to leave out.

Here, the plan was to survey the history of opera in a series of eight episodes of about fifteen minutes each. This means we had just a little over two hours to cover a genre that has been with us since around 1600! So, a lot of great music and their stories sadly couldn’t be included. But a lot could. Opera in Eight Parts presents some of the genre’s most treasured moments in a format that combines musical performance, historical background, and stunning visual art.

We crafted the series around a combination of concise narratives on the history of opera and the repertory of some extraordinary singers here in Kansas City. The staff at the Lyric Opera, area musicologists, and of course the singers themselves came up with an insightful and delightful series of glimpses into some of opera’s most memorable moments.

Being able to film the episodes at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with backdrops appropriate to the music being featured only added to the distinctive nature of the project. In addition to visuals showing the museum itself, images from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s world-renowned collections are featured in each episode. Connections between music and the fine arts—aural and visual manifestations of the human experience—infuse the series and show how opera, the visual arts, and historical contexts are vividly intertwined.

Whether it is the tenderness of “Summertime” from The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, the pathos in Puccini’s La Bohème, or the ardent lovesickness of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, music from these and other beloved operas reveal qualities of humanity at its best, and at its worst. There’s plenty in opera to make us reflect on our own frailties and shortcomings. For example, we’ll hear a father offering his daughter to a ghostly sea captain to get a large dowry in an excerpt from Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, and in Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus (The Bat), we’ll meet a woman who, disguised as a Hungarian countess, becomes the object of her husband’s flirtatious behavior. Opera forces us to think about serious moral and social issues while experiencing its glorious music.

To make this all happen was a valiant team effort. Working with Deborah Sandler, Brad Trexell, and Tracy Davis-Singh at the Lyric, along with the incomparable Vinson Cole, was a true joy, and the folks at AW Studio and at the Nelson-Atkins helped make everyone feel comfortable during the actual filming. Great music and great art are things to be savored, and Opera in Eight Parts does just that.

Dr. William Everett, PhD is the Curator’s Distingueshed Professor of Musicology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory, where he teaches courses ranging from medieval music to American musical theater. 

Opera in Eight Parts is available for purchase here.