Okay, internet. Let’s talk about the next big thing. The trending topic. The thing all the kids are talking about, or would be if they were that cool and/or not frittering away their precious youths on ChatRoulette. We’re talking early 19th-century literature, the birth of the modern novel…sung. Yeah, that’s right. I’m talking Pride and Prejudice and that automatic pop-culture dynamite, the opera.
This Saturday, Mrs. Fitzpatrick and I did what all hot young things would on a sunny California afternoon: put on our enormous sunglasses, leggings, and gladiator sandals and hoofed it over to a Jane and the Arts seminar at San Francisco State University, hosted by the Jane Austen Society of North America, Northern California chapter, and partially featuring composer Kirke Mechem and his new Pride and Prejudice opera. Awww, yeah. Work it.
Mechem was, in fact, fascinating (and very enthusiastic when accosted at tea time to discuss Jane Austen March Madness), and spoke at length about the process of adapting Austen. From the perspective of a seasoned writer and composer, he spoke of the appeal of diverse characterization in Pride and Prejudice (and why he’d be unlikely to adapt, say, Persuasion in the same way), the humor and poignancy that attracted him to her work in the first place (see: Bennet, Jane and Mrs.), and tough decisions in the area of cutting (he left out Lizzy’s trip to Pemberley, but hear him out before you storm off in a huff). He spoke about incorporating—or not—the music of the day into his score, and about a single instance of borrowing from another artist’s work.
And then the singers came out.
And it was awesome.
It turns out that Pride and Prejudice practically begs to be set to music—not slavishly, not without edits and rearrangements, but in a way that explores the text in a new and totally entertaining light. Most striking was the way in which the music coordinated with and then illuminated each character in his or her turn—a spot-on aural representation of the people and universe of the novel. Mrs. Bennet as high (not to say shrill) soprano? Check. Darcy as graceful-yet-manly baritone? Also check. Mr. Collins as hilariously imperious bass baritone? Check check check check check. We heard Lizzy and Darcy’s awkward dance at the ball and Lizzy’s rebuttal of Collins, and capped everything off with an aria for (soprano) Jane Bennet, embellished slightly with the Sara Teasdale poem “Let It Be Forgotten”—which we loved for highlighting both the sweetness of Jane’s character and the sorrow of her situation. In terms of accessibility, there are no Viking helmets here; as opera goes, this is relatively light and totally approachable (and sung in English). If you think Jane Austen is funny, you’ll think her opera’s funny, too.
The Pride and Prejudice opera has yet to premiere professionally, and the internet has not seen fit to grace us with a video sample (we looked!), but consider this the Austenacious stamp of approval: we loved what we saw and heard, and we just can’t wait to hear Lizzy’s takedown of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. In fact, we take it back: Lady Catherine just might wear that Viking helmet.Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen, Jane Austen Society of North America, Jane Bennet, JASNA, Kirke Mechem, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins, Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Bennet, music, opera, Pride and Prejudice, Pride and Prejudice: The Opera on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 · 2 Comments »