For anyone intimidated by a full-scale, three-hour opera sung in a foreign language, NOVA Center for the Performing Arts has the perfect solution: opera light.
There are no tragic death scenes or cursed maidens in the two comedic operas staged at NOVA’s Festival of One-Act Operas.
Instead, audiences will experience laugh-out-loud moments during performances of “Old Maid and the Thief” and “Gianni Schicchi.” They will also hear soaring arias written by one of the most-lauded composers in history, Giacomo Puccini. And all of the words are in English.
Doug Nagel, one of the founders of Rimrock Opera who now teaches voice at Montana State University Billings, directs the two short operas. He also takes on the role of Simone in “Gianni Schicchi.”
The operas will be performed on Oct. 23, 25 and 30 and Nov. 1 in the Roebling Theater at the NOVA Center, 2317 Montana Ave. Call NOVA at 591-9535 for tickets and show times.
The operas will feature some new talent to Billings, including a real-life married couple, James and Emily Duncan, who play a young couple about to be married in “Schicchi.”
“He’s a major goofball,” Emily said of James.
The Duncans started looking for opportunities to perform opera even before they arrived in Billings last year with their three children.
“This is what we love to do,” James said.
William Mouat performs in the title role of Schicchi. Set in Florence, Italy, in 1299, the story follows a conniving family set on acquiring money from a rich relative by changing the will, which bequeaths the fortune to a monastery. Schicchi is hired by the family to oversee the hoax.
“I feel like a one-act opera makes opera more friendly to the public,” Mouat said. “Sometimes an opera sounds too intimidating, but when you put it in English, it becomes more accessible.”
Mouat said there are still musically powerful moments in the production, especially a duet performed by the young couple, but there is plenty of silliness.
“The Old Maid and the Thief” is also performed in English. Set in the early 1950s and written by Gian Carlo Menotti, “Old Maid and the Thief” tells the story of a spinster who takes in a visitor. Her maid becomes enamored with him, and together the two connive to steal everything from Miss Todd, including her car. But another spinster is hot on their trail.
Gavin Askin, who plays the stranger Bob, took on his first opera performance in “Susannah.” For him, opera was an extension of the competitive speech and drama he did at Skyview High. Opera has it all, he said.
“I love making people smile,” said Askin, who at 21 is the youngest member of both casts.
But don’t let Askin’s young age fool you. Nagel described his voice as naturally beautiful.
“Wait till you hear his aria; it’s melancholy yet still beautiful,” Nagel. “Besides that, he gets to play the hunk of the show.”