Metropolitan Opera tenor Hugo Vera first heard an aria from the opera L'Enfant Prodigue at a performance in New York, and he was quickly enamored. "I literally went back home and looked it up on YouTube, and looked at the score and totally fell in love with it."
Right away, the singer typed an e-mail to artistic director Patrice Tiedemann, attaching his video finds with a little enthusiastic prodding. It didn't take too much convincing.
"[It's] a piece of gorgeous music that is rarely heard, a chance to incorporate dance into the performance, and the perfect cast size for Gage Hall," Teidemann says of the opera, written by Claude Debussy. "Plus, the theme of redemption and family loyalty — being able to go back home to where you are loved — always resonates with people."
Three singers, including Tiedemann and Christian Elser, plus dancers, compose the cast of the program that will also feature Gabriel Faure's Poem d'un jour, Debussy's Nuit d'etoiles, and Ravel's Don Quichotte a Dulcinee.
Entirely in French, L'Enfant Prodigue is "rarely ever done. ... Like, never ever ever," Vera says. "I really give credit to Patrice in that she had an open mind for it."
Festival regulars may recognize Vera from past performances; in 2010 he voiced the wooden actor Philemon in Colla Marionette Company's Philemon and Baucis, a performance from the centuries-old Italian institution which the CP hailed as being "rounded out with first-rate operatic vocals." He filled minor roles as the first armored man and the priest in Mozart's The Magic Flute in 2011. And last year, he sang in Viva Espana, an array of pieces from a broad stroke of Spanish composers. This is Vera's fourth consecutive appearance.
When asked about performing on a small scale as opposed to the Met, Vera sounds surprisingly unfazed. "What separates the stage from the audience is a very big pit at the Met, so there isn't that close connection, whereas at Piccolo you're pretty much breathing down on the person. The audience gets to see the emotion a lot closer," Vera says. "It really puts more responsibility on the performer to communicate."
Vera has been preparing for that conversation with the audience over the last few months on his own, researching everything from why the piece was written to translating text. As with many of Piccolo's offerings, the cast and crew were not united to rehearse together until May 27.
"That is why it is important that every performer has everything down, so our director can get in there and just — boom — go."
Piccolo Spoleto. L'Enfant Prodigue. June 1 at 6 p.m. June 2 at 4 p.m. $26, $18/seniors, students. Gage Hall, 4 Archdale St.