Powerful, melodic strains of Italian vocals filled United Methodist Church on Sunday as the Mission Opera performed two one-act operas by Giacomo Puccini.
The first performance was “Suor Angelica,” a tragedy that tells the story of a princess who is forced to become a nun after having a child out of wedlock. The performance then switched gears for “Gianni Schicchi,” a comedy based on part of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”
Joshua Wentz, artistic director of Mission Opera and the director of music at the church, said this was only the second performance for the company that was formed earlier this year to cater to Santa Clarita and the surrounding areas, which do not have an opera presence.
“Santa Clarita has some really good singers and many of our members are from Santa Clarita and San Fernando, so they had to drive an hour to downtown to participate in anything operatic,” Wentz said.
Part of the struggle of being in the world of opera, according to Wentz, is that the genre was most popular among the baby boomers, and as more of that generation dies off there is less of a patron base. However, he hopes to eventually use Mission Opera to revitalize interest among young people by partnering with local schools.
“We really want to expose young people to the art form and to classical music in a fun way,” Wentz said. “We want them to see that it isn’t as bad as they might have thought it was. This isn’t Bugs Bunny opera with the fat lady in the horns, it’s opera for everybody.”
Jaclyn Neuffer, who played Suor Chiara in “Suor Angelica,” said that while the L.A. Opera is the main player on the scene, smaller local companies are important because their individual approaches to classic works help keep the art innovative and alive.
“Opera isn’t the same as it was hundreds of years ago,” Neuffer said. “We are constantly expanding, reiterative and making new connections with our audience. There are even some ‘Star Wars’ versions of operas. As an independent company, we’re trying to reach out to different communities that may have never seen an opera before and making it more convenient for communities to see their local talent.”
Sunday’s performance was the first time Kimberly Tran had seen an opera and at first she was worried that it would be just like the dismal, boring portrayals in film and television, but ended up enjoying herself.
“At first, I was worried it would be sad and grim like you see in movies — but it was actually very emotional and captivating,” Tran said. “It’s amazing that we have opportunities like this in the community. Besides raising awareness for the art form, it brings people together. People should come out and give opera a try to see that it’s not just the boring musicals that they might think of.”