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Fri, Dec. 13

Lights, laughs, lyrics - it's opera time

Leah Rochelle/Courtesy photo<br>
‘The Old Maid’ opens at Prescott Fine Arts Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and is followed by another performance at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Leah Rochelle/Courtesy photo<br> ‘The Old Maid’ opens at Prescott Fine Arts Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and is followed by another performance at 2 p.m. Sunday.

PRESCOTT - Chamber Arts and Opera Productions of Phoenix is coming to town to give Prescottonians something they may never have heard before - an opera sung in English, and a comedy to boot.

"It's a fun, light and dramatic performance that borders on the ridiculous," said Leah Rochelle, 35, who formed the group one year ago in order to bring opera performances to out-of-town venues.

"I started it specifically to bring modern 20th- and 21st-century opera to people who don't know opera, but to make it good enough for people who do know opera," said Rochelle, who sings and performs in the show. "And all for the price of a movie ticket."

The opera, which shows at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30, is part of the Prescott Fine Arts Association's "Saturday Night on the Town" series.

When Jon Meyer took over as PFAA executive director in November 2009, he had two ideas for increasing the association's financial "legs."

"One was creating a formidable education program, which is underway," he said. "The other was to offer several opportunities to present professional artists from within and outside of the Prescott area."

After Meyer joined PFAA, he and the board of directors set some ambitious goals for the PFAA's future.

"With our upcoming name change, we are in the process of redefining who and what we are as an organization," he said, which gave Rochelle's group a new outlet for opera.

Rochelle, who moved to the Phoenix area seven years ago, is a professionally trained opera singer and has performed throughout Europe.

"I want to make opera more accessible to people, young and old alike," Rochelle said. "When you say 'opera,' it sounds so off-putting. And I want to introduce English-speaking opera to more people."

In 1939, NBC Radio commissioned Gian Carlo Menotti to write a comedy opera - "The Old Maid and the Thief" - for one of its radio shows. The PFAA handbill describes the story as "a twisted tale of morals and evil womanly power." Menotti wrote of his production: "The devil couldn't do what a woman can - make a thief out of an honest man."

The Chamber Arts adaptation of "Old Maid," directed by Christy Welty, is set in a late-1930s/early-1940s radio station broadcast room.

"It's funny, comedic and a sure thing to get people interested," Rochelle said of the one-hour show. "It's gossipy, quick-moving and fairly short."

Four singers perform while the "radio announcer" keeps things moving with sound effects and a pianist provides music and mood.

"The genius of Menotti is that he wrote the music in a way that tells you exactly what is going on," Rochelle said. Although he scored the original music for a full orchestra, the traveling opera group performs with only a piano.

"We call it 'The 88-Key Orchestra' because a piano has 88 keys," Rochelle quipped.

"Opera is joy - a beautiful way to express joy," she said, explaining her passion for the art. "Opera is very exciting. It's where you can express melodrama and still be very funny."

The Prescott Fine Arts Theater is located at 208 N. Marina St., in Prescott. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for children, and are sold at the box office, online at, or by calling 445-3286.

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