Libiamo (Let’s Drink)! HPAF’s Opera on the Rocks

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Going to an opera production is exciting, with the sets, costumes, orchestra, and big stage on which the drama will unfold, in a large theater with rows and rows of seats. You’re there with opera glasses so you can get a closer look at an individual singer, and you feel as one with the rest of the audience as you roar in unison after an aria particularly well sung.  And that’s why we can’t wait to see Carmen which will be performed by HPAF at the Palace on July 5 and at the Kahilu on July 7!

Paulina Villareal

But there’s another just as wonderful pleasure: “Opera on the Rocks,” an HPAF tradition.  No sets, no costumes, no orchestra, no stage, just a room with tables. You’re there super relaxed enjoying pupus and drinks – the evening began with The Champagne Song from Strauss’ Die Fliedermaus and ended with Libiamo, (Let’s Drink!) from Verdi’s La Traviata– no need for opera glasses because the performers are up close and personal, and you feel as one with each singer.

James Harrington

Four members of the HPAF faculty entertained us with selections from a variety of operas.  Paulina Villareal, mezzo-soprano, and James Harrington, bass, we heard last week singing Hollywood Hits; on this night, they proved that they were just as comfortable with the more complex melodies and ornamentations found in opera. Harrington was superb in La Calumnia (Gossip), from Rossini’s Barber of Seville.  His character is a confident rogue, and up close we could see a range of emotions play across his face faster than clouds in a Hawaii sky, from sly to blustering to confiding, describing how gossip is a great strategy for taking a big man down. And this before Twitter! Pauline, also in a comic role, was charming as a maid, “Menegilda,” in the Spanish operetta, La Gran Via. She demonstrates with her voice and actions that she does not intend to remain a servant, but has the gumption, guile, and good looks – tools more attractive than brooms and washpans – to rise to a higher station.

William Nield Christensen

The other two performers we have seen at HPAF before, and are glad to have them back.  William Nield Christensen sang two heart-wrenching arias, both of men awaiting execution, and thinking of the women they love and will never see again. I reached for another drink.

Rachel Copeland

Soprano Rachel Copeland creates an energy field around her that makes her riveting to watch and hear; her inner exuberance cannot be repressed whether the aria is happy or sad. She has the ability to drop her jaw and shape her mouth into an amazing sound chamber, so when she hits that long high note at the end of “Je veux vivre,” (I want to live) from Romeo and Juliette, it reverberates through your whole being.

Pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg did a marvelous job standing in for a whole orchestra: in this event, everything about opera is pared down and simplified.  Everything, that is, except the voices:  big, bold, and beautiful. Let’s drink to that!


Tickets are now on sale for all events. For a full list of HPAF offerings and ticket information, please visit: www.hawaiiperformingartsfestival.org.


Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.

Photos: Steve Roby

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