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Acting on the Edge

Opera Institute’s Fringe Festival runs through November 4

Click above to see images from the opera Hostage, about a woman fighting for the release of her diplomat husband, being held hostage by terrorists. Photos by Kalman Zabarsky


Sharon Daniels, director of the BU Opera Institute, decided to shake things up a bit at this year’s Fall Fringe Festival.

“We felt a little boxed in by themes,” says Daniels, a College of Fine Arts associate professor, who founded the festival 11 years ago. “We have these unusual opportunities to do pieces unrelated to each other. We have more freedom this year.”

Daniels modeled the BU festival after “fringe” events held just outside the gates of Scotland’s Edinburgh Festival. The festival’s small-scale productions give CFA students more opportunities to perform and audiences the chance to see newer or rarely performed pieces.

“We pick pieces that are challenging and evocative, that are not conventional,” says Jim Petosa, director of the school of theatre. “We want to give the audience a way to explore performances they wouldn’t get a chance to see often.”

As soon as classes began in September, students and faculty of the CFA school of music’s Opera Institute and school of theatre started working on the productions.

The Fall Fringe Festival runs through November 4 with the final performances of the one-act operas The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Hostage, by Samuel Headrick, a CFA assistant professor in the school of music. The culmination of the festival is this weekend’s Art Song as Theatre, the Opera Institute’s student recitals featuring visual art, dance, and instrumental musicians. Among the selections for Art Songs this year will be music by Maurice Ravel and Headrick.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a psychological opera about a man with visual agnosia — he sees the world in the abstract, Petosa says. Taken from an essay by Oliver Sacks and with music by Michael Nyman, the opera is seen from the doctor’s point of view.

“The classical thinking is that this particular brain lesion robs the patient’s ability to see the world normally,” says Petosa, the stage director for the piece. “It’s like looking at the world and seeing a Picasso cubist painting. It’s quite unique, getting a sense of how the character views the world.”

A movement-enhanced concert of Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortilèges, featuring the BU Symphony Orchestra and singers from the Opera Institute and the school of music Opera Programs, was a long-awaited part of this year’s festival. Sung in French, it tells the story of a misbehaving child reprimanded by the toys and animals he has tortured.

“We’ve been wanting to do the opera for years,” says Daniels, who directed the piece. “We never had the timing right, with the appropriate singers and orchestra. The opportunity came this year, and we felt it was valuable to do — it’s a feast of beauty.”

The 11th annual Boston University Fall Fringe Festival, presented by the school of music’s Opera Institute and the school of theatre, runs through November 4. Click here for information about Hostage and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Art Song as Theatre is Saturday, November 3, and Sunday, November 4, at 2 p.m., at the Boston University Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston. Free tickets are available at the BU Theatre box office on the day of the performance for Art Song as Theatre. Purchase tickets online, by phone at 617-933-8600, or in person at the BU Theatre box office.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu.