When the crowd went wild for Handel

When the crowd went wild for Handel

Jenna Simeonov

Friday night was the second Opera Karaoke night in downtown Banff, AB, and the most amazing thing happened.

Soprano Caitlin Wood (singing Despina in A Little Too Cozy) showed off her coloratura chops with Handel’s “Da tempeste,” Cleopatra’s flashiest aria from Giulio Cesare. We weren’t performing for a particularly opera-savvy crowd, and in my own experience, the older the aria, the bigger the risk of boredom for this kind of audience. Cait grabbed the attention of the whole room with the scales and trills that seem superhuman, especially to those who don’t hear it as often as we do. When she returned to the A-prime section, with ornaments abound, she earned not applause, but cheers and whoops. I was at the piano, and felt a clear vibe of exactly what Handel had intended when he set up these arias: anticipation.

Of course, part of the audience’s reaction happened because we were in a relaxed environment, not bound to one seat (or one drink). The crowd had no surtitles, nor were they given any sort of spoken translation before Cait began to sing. I won’t say that words don’t matter in arias like “Da tempeste,” but isn’t it spectacular that with the right combination of factors, a non-Italian-speaking audience reacts to opera like any other form of entertainment? That combination is threefold:

  1. Great music
  2. Great singers singing great music
  3. A happy audience.

So simple, but perhaps so rare. It was a small moment from a fun night (photos to be found right here), but it really stuck with me. I realized I’d never heard an audience whoop during a Handel aria, and when you think about it, that’s ridiculous.

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