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Desperate passion


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POSTED: Friday, January 30, 2009

Is there such a thing as a subtle, understated opera? The venue itself suggests over-the-top emotions and acting out on an enormous scale. That's the fun of it, unzipping the dam of everyday repressions. And opera performers are probably required by law to be the center of attention in any room.

               

     

 

'MANON LESCAUT'

        On stage: 8 p.m. Friday, 4 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
       

Place: Blaisdell Concert Hall

       

Tickets: $29 to $120

       

Call: (800) 836-7372 or www.hawaiiopera.org

       

       

Growing up near Syracuse, N.Y., Richard Crawley thought he'd be a pianist. Or maybe a church organist. But when he attended college as a music major, he noticed that the piano students spent all their time in solitary practice, cloistered alone in tiny rooms.

"And then a friend tricked me in becoming part of the chorus at a school opera, and I had the time of my life," recalled Crawley. "I knew then what I wanted to do."

Crawley became a operatic tenor. He's not only playing Chevalier des Grieux in "Manon Lescaut" at Hawaii Opera Theatre this week, he returns in three weeks to essay Don Jose in "Carmen." Two big parts, brimming with brio. And "Manon Lescaut" is set in New Orleans, of all places.

  HE'S BEEN here before, playing Cavaradossi in "Tosca" and before that, honeymooning on Maui. Like most operatic performers, he lives out of a suitcase, in the last few years performing "Carmen" in Greece, "Eugene Onegin" in San Francisco, "Verdi Requiem" in Dayton, "Cavalleria Rusticana" in Toledo, "Un Ballo in Maschera" in Santa Barbara, "Madama Butterfly" in Chautauqua and "Faust" in Portland.

The upcoming roles for HOT are "both lovers who are obsessed with these women," Crawley said. "They're crazy, upset with love, desperation. Basically good people whose lives are unraveling.

"They have huge, enormous passions, emotions, things we don't get to express in the modern world. We walk a tightrope. To reach the proper level, we have to work through these emotions in rehearsal. It can be pretty intense. But you don't want to exhaust your instrument. Let the audience feel the emotion, instead of those on stage with you."

Don Jose, in particular, is a ticking bomb of Latin rage, erupting into jealous anger and fury.

"You have to be able to believably express violence and anger, but without affecting your throat. That's the acting part."

  CRAWLEY SAYS it takes a while to make an opera star, someone with enough mileage to play an overwrought, passionate adult, not an easy goal in a world that worships youth. As it turns out, his favorite singer is crooner Tony Bennett. "He's amazing from the get-go, and the older he gets, the greater his technique is."

Preparing the next generation of opera stars, Crawley also teaches voice. Is there a secret to pass on to Don Jose Juniors?

"I've always maintained," said Crawley, breaking into a chuckle, "that young tenors are built upon a foundation of meatball sauce."

 

The original novel of "Manon Lescaut" by Abbe Prevost can be downloaded at: www.gutenberg.org/etext/468