Rachel Hanauer Dials Up the Opera with Who’s Calling? for Two Nights Only

rachelhanauerhighresheadshot2016_origThe popularity — and profitability — of programming an evening of one-act plays is quite undeniable for most smaller theaters. In our current short-attention-span culture, televised entertainment is often doled out to viewers in 20-minute packages, so it stands to reason that live theater would easily follow suit. While television and plays are commonly produced as self-contained one-acts, I don’t believe that outside of an academic setting I’ve ever seen one act operas produced lately on local stages.

The evening is titled Who’s Calling? 3 One Act Operas to be performed first February 22 as part of Contemporary Theater Company’s Springboard Season, followed by a repeat performance the next evening at The Arctic Playhouse in West Warwick.

Directed by Rachel Hanauer and Chelsea Swan, Who’s Calling? clocks in at about 60 minutes and features two short comic contemporary operas and one longer tour-de-force dramatic piece performed by a soprano soloist. Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge is a comic quartet of card-players, The Telephone, by Gian Carlo Menotti, concerns a woman on the phone who is completely oblivious to her boyfriend’s advances. The third one-act of the evening is a darker drama, The Human Voice by Francis Poulenc. And yes, all three pieces are in English, so no worries for the non-operatic fan on that front.

I spoke to Rachel Hanauer, director and also the soloist for The Human Voice about this ambitious program and the possibility of bringing more modern opera to local audiences.

Marilyn Busch, Motif: How did your producing and directing this evening of operatic one-acts come about?

Rachel Hanauer: The Poulenc opera, La voix humaine (The Human Voice) has been something I’ve known for years and have been looking for an excuse to perform, not only because Poulenc’s music is lush and gorgeous, but because it is such a challenge acting-wise for a soprano. I applied to the Springboard Season at Contemporary Theater Company and the project was accepted. I decided to add the other two one-act operas to round out the program. 

MB: What do you think makes for great modern opera? 

RH: Modern opera is all about the story and mirroring real life. It connects more to a human element in us and we can relate more directly to the characters on stage.

MB: Google tells me that A Hand of Bridge is the shortest opera EVER – is that really true? Under 10 minutes?

RH: There are shorter pieces but, A Hand of Bridge is the shortest opera regularly performed in the repertoire. Audiences can expect to hear vocally challenging music and to watch a card game happening where the characters are revealing their inner demons to the audience. The singers are all professional opera singers, no strangers to opera. The Hand of Bridge singers are Chelsea Swan, soprano; Julie Rumbold, mezzo-soprano; Daniel Kamalic, tenor and Tim Hoyt, baritone.

MB: The Telephone has a very “wink wink, nudge nudge” comic subtitle of L’Amour à trois, and is about a man unsuccessfully trying to get his girlfriend off the telephone in order to pop the question.

RH: Yes … it is a comedy for two singers — performed by Caroline Spaeth, soprano and Daniel Kamalic, tenor. 

MB: What’s the most challenging part of The Human Voice, in which you are the soloist.

RH: It’s based on the play by Jean Cocteau. The biggest challenge for this one-woman opera is the memorization! The piece is an emotional roller coaster, and the audience is sympathetic and feels close to the character.

MB: Are you directing it and starring?

RH: I asked Chelsea Swan, who is singing in A Hand of Bridge, to direct me in the piece.  She went to the San Francisco Conservatory and has great instincts.

MB: Any future plans to mount larger pieces at any of these local venues?

RH: I have dreams of starting an opera company in Rhode Island, but for now, I hope to stage operas next year in the same venues and try to make it an annual tradition.

MB: What would you tell people who are afraid of “not getting” opera? 

RH: Even if you’re not a big opera fan, this is just good, modern theater! 

Who’s Calling? Three One-Act Operas featuring A Hand of Bridge by Samuel Barber, The Telephone by Gian Carlo Menotti and The Human Voice by Francis Poulenc. Directed by Rachel Hanauer and Chelsea Swan (who also perform) alongside Tim Hoyt, Daniel Kamalic, Julie Rumbold, and Caroline Spaeth with Jean Maxon accompanying on piano. Performances are Friday February 22 at 7pm at Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield as part of their Springboard Season and then Saturday, February 23 at 7:30pm at The Arctic Playhouse, in West Warwick. Tickets and more information: contemporarytheatercompany.com and thearcticplayhouse.com.

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