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Henry Akina, general and artistic director of HOT
Image: Hawaii Opera Theatre

Opera: It’s a HOT change

After more than 50 years in business, Hawaii Opera Theatre is entering a new season in more ways than one. Gone are the days of cram-packed shows during January and February–come October, the theatre will unveil a new Grand Opera schedule featuring one production each in October, February and April. “This year will be a particular challenge for us,” says HOT director Henry Akina, “But we’ve had a lot of good response.” Now that opera lovers can attend shows throughout the year, Akina says, “This is an opportunity to bring opera closer to the community.”

Yes, HOT is changing. Considering there was no professional opera scene prior to HOT, things have come a long way. Akina was 5 years old when HOT became a subdivision of the Honolulu Symphony in 1960. He came on staff in 1996, with an impressive background as stage director and manager of the Berlin Chamber Opera, which he founded in Germany.

The theatre is a mecca of local talent with a rich history. It debuted with Madama Butterfly at McKinley High School auditorium, where it held shows until Neal Blaisdell Center was built in 1964. Two decades later, HOT became an independent, tax-exempt corporation and began a season with La Bohème, Lucia di Lammermoor and Carmen.

Back in the 1850s, opera often involved royalty. Queen Emma sang in the chorus of Verdi’s Il Trovatore, while her husband worked as stage manager. Queen Liliuokalani is also rumored to have composed her own opera. But these days, you don’t need to be royal or rich to watch live opera. You don’t need formal wear, you don’t need to be (or think you are) a sophisticated upper-class citizen. “I don’t think stereotypes are relevant these days,” says Akina, “People can come as they feel, they should appreciate the most exciting form of theatre there is.”

So what’s up with the upcoming three shows? Akina covers the season in one sentence: “The first one is funny, the second powerful and the third opera pure…that is, very dark.”


Die Fledermaus

The rhapsodic Johann Strauss spins this tale in his hometown of Vienna in the 1890s. Watch this comic love triangle unfold between Rosalinda, her husband von Eisenstein and her old flame Alfred. And discover why it’s called, “The Bat.”

Fri., 10/12, 8pm; Sun.,10/14, 4pm; Tues., 10/16, 7pm, $20-$120

Dialogues of the Carmelites

A convent during the French Revolution sets the stage, but, according to Akina, the play that inspired Francois Poulenc’s opera was written in reference to the Second World War. The heroine is a young nun, Blanche de La Force. This will be the first time this show, which debuted in 1957 at La Scala, is to be performed on Oahu,

Fri., 2/15/2013, 8pm; Sun., 2/17/2013, 4pm; Tues., 2/19/2013, 7pm

Tosca

Get out your handkerchiefs: You won’t find a more emotional, melodic composer than Giacomo Puccini. Floria Tosca, a famous singer suspects her lover, Mario Cavaradossi, of being unfaithful. Meanwhile, Baron Scarpia, chief of the secret police, seeks to destroy their relationship. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful opera from the classic period of opera,” says Akina. “It’s a good way to end the opera. Everyone dies!”

Fri., 4/26/2013, 8pm, Sun., 4/28/2013, 4pm, Tues., 4/30/2013, 7pm, $20-$120
Ticket Information:
Neal Blaidsell Center, 999 S. King Street, [hawaiiopera.org], [email: hottickets], 596-7858

Folks who don’t attend:

“II’m not really in that scene and it’s kind of pricey right now as a student. I think it’s for a more older, elite club and you need to wear business casual.”

“I imagine it’s rather takai [expensive] and the typical demographic is normally older couples with high disposable income, well-educated and from town. I don’t think your typical local person would appreciate the aesthetics.”

“I would go if someone [who] invited me is going and it’s a good show, but not otherwise, and I wouldn’t go out of my way. I’m sure a lot of different people go because of the small degrees of separation and everyone probably knows someone in it.”

“Opera draws a varied crowd of people checking it out for the first time, [people] who appreciate the talent involved or those who simply love it for its own sake.”

“I attended as a student because of the student discounts. I don’t anymore because of the price.

Folks who attend:

“In the past as a student, it was a way of really hearing ‘professionals’ at their performing best and a way of hearing different voices in the classical genre. In one instance, I saw “The Daughter of the Regiment” with Ruth Welting as the lead. Approximately eight years later, when I visited Florence, Italy, I saw her as the lead in the same opera. Every year, I’ve tried to introduce this genre to KCC students by participating in the HOT Education Guild which allows students to attend the dress rehearsals or specially student ticketed performances of the operas. This is one way to build young audiences.”

“I buy season tickets. I love everything about opera–the music, the singing, the costumes, the whole spectacle. Plus, we usually make a night of it and go out to dinner with friends. Carmen is my all-time favorite.”