Pacific heights

Opera and theatre stars work together on R&H classic South Pacific

Many would envy me at this moment, as I sit in the rehearsal hall of
Edmonton’s Jubilee Auditorium with my notebook at my elbow, but
I’m scribbling very little. After all, a musical legend is coming to
life before my eyes. It’s South Pacific, the last production of the
Edmonton Opera’s 40th anniversary season. Much of the wonder and
excitement has to do with the skill of the professionals in charge: artistic
director Brian Deedrick, conductor Peter Dala, choreographer Allison Grant.
Anyone who feels process, and not just results, are what’s important
has to appreciate this trio’s meticulous attention to detail. Then
there are the stars. Representing the world of opera are soprano Tracy Dahl,
baritone Theodore Baerg and mezzo-soprano Rebecca Haas. Dahl, who got her
start in musical theatre, is utterly convincing as the blithe and girlish
Ensign Nellie Forbush—she can even do cartwheels! Though her other
roles this season have been in the serious classical vein (Mahler, Strauss,
Donizetti, Léhar), she has no difficulty switching gears. Meanwhile,
Haas, who played Katisha, the memorable daughter-in-law-elect in last
season’s The Mikado, promises to be equally engaging as the
manipulative Bloody Mary. Haas, who hopes to bring her one-woman show Wanna
Sing a Show Tune to Edmonton later in the year, has so many comedy credits,
one almost forgets she has Handel’s Messiah and other oratorios in her
repertoire. The operatic principals say they are learning a lot from the
theatre people in the production, which bursts with such familiar Edmonton
performers as Jeff Haslam, Mark Meer, John Ullyatt, John Wright and David
McNally. “At first, I felt intimidated by how good the actors
were,” says Haas, who confesses that apart from taking a class or two,
she “hasn’t done actual theatre since high school.” Baerg,
meanwhile, can be forgiven for feeling a little less daunted by the task
before him. Though his character, Emile de Becque, is the romantic lead and
the noblest visage in the current production, it’s not a difficult role
compared to, say, the title role in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, which he
played for Pacific Opera Victoria in February of 2003. That’s not the
point, however, says Baerg. It’s about “being available,”
and that’s what he teaches his voice and opera students at the
University of Western Ontario. “If you want a career in North
America,” he says, “you have to be available.” While
Baerg’s method of learning a role begins with analyzing the music and
“being honest to what the composer is doing,” he also pays
attention to theatrical elements—and de Becque does more than just
stand around and watch the women swoon. “[He] has a life maturity about
him that has to be communicated,” Baerg says. “He too is set
apart.” In spite of many light-hearted scenes, Baerg believes the moral
centre of the story is racial prejudice. While tormented Wozzeck is a
homicidal madman, de Becque is only guilty of self-defence and marrying an
island woman. But don’t let me give the story away. V South Pacific
Jubilee Auditorium • Sat, Apr. 24 (8pm), Sun, Apr 25 (2pm), Mon-Tue, Apr
27-28 (7:30pm) • 451-8000/429-1000

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