Three from the Fringe
By Jessica Ullian
An adulterous wife, a pair of doomed young lovers, and Galileo seem an unlikely trio. But they have more in common than one might think. Linked by repression — of their theories, feelings, or dreams — their frustrations have brought them together in an eccentric performance series.
The characters are united on stage in this year’s Fall Fringe Festival, the annual collection of one-act operas and plays put on by CFA’s Opera Institute and school of theatre arts. The festival’s theme is Breaking Bonds: Artistic Response to Repression, and each of its three shows — Thérèse Raquin, Ballymore Part One: Winners, and Galileo Galilei — examines a different struggle for freedom.
“The Fringe Festival has always had a reputation for doing work that is deemed unconventional or off the mainstream track,” says James Petosa, a CFA professor and director of the school of theatre arts, who directs Thérèse Raquin. “Thematically, in terms of the focus of the year, and in the mission of the Fringe itself, the play seems like a perfect fit.”
The only play in the series, Thérèse Raquin is set in 19th-century Paris. The title character is trapped in a bland, loveless marriage, and crafts her escape by engaging in an affair with her husband’s best friend. The lovers, fueled by their passion, liberate Thérèse by killing her husband — but their plan is thwarted by the dead husband’s ghost, who returns to haunt them on their wedding night and on many subsequent occasions.
The piece, playwright Neal Bell’s adaptation of an Emile Zola novel, is an especially apt choice this year, as Bell is a visiting professor in the school of theatre arts.
Galileo Galilei explores a different sort of repression. The opera tells Galileo’s story in reverse, beginning near the end of his life during his imprisonment for the “heretical” theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. Taking the audience back in time from that point, the piece reviews Galileo’s conflicts and discoveries, all leading to a moment of inspiration in his childhood — which, fittingly, involves the opera. The work was written by contemporary composer Philip Glass.
Finally, Ballymore Part One: Winners follows two young lovers on their last day of life. Composer Richard Wargo based the opera on the play Lovers by Irish author Brian Friel, and has said that despite the tragedy that occurs, the lovers find a sort of peace and freedom in death. “They die with all of their ideals intact,” Wargo told an interviewer in 1999.
The shows’ common theme of breaking bonds is appropriate for the Fringe Festival, which started in 1996 as an effort to move away from the traditional perceptions of opera and to offer CFA students additional chances to perform. At the time, says Sharon Daniels, CFA’s director of opera programs, the Opera Institute put on just two mainstage productions each year, which limited the roles available for students.
“Our wonderful professional singers all needed roles on their résumés,” she says. “It seemed to me that as part of our professional mission, if these guys could get not only another role on their résumé, but experience working with professional directors, it would be really exciting.”
The first year, working on a limited budget, the festival was performed in a classroom, in the Tsai Performance Center, and in the BU Theatre. Now in its eighth year, the Festival has found a home in the BU Theatre’s Studio 210, a 100-seat black box performance space, and has grown to serve a dual purpose: bringing opera to a new audience, and offering students a chance to perform in an intimate, unconventional venue.
“It really is great for our singers and for our audiences, because it gives a different kind of artistic demand and performance demand,” Daniels says. “It’s a very exciting way to be exposed to your first opera.”
Thérèse Raquin runs October 14 to 17, October 22 and 23, October 28 and 29, and November 5 and 6. Ballymore Part One: Winners runs October 22 to 24 and October 30 and 31; Galileo Galilei runs October 30 and 31 and November 4 to 7. All shows are at the BU Theatre, Studio 210, 264 Huntington Ave.; admission is $5, free with BU ID, subject to availability. Call 617-933-8600 for performance times.