Stambul Not Constantinople...

Although we've established that my tastes in entertainment don't quite trend towards the high-brow, I found myself in attendance at a performance of the Chicago Folks Operetta, a theater company dedicated to reviving forgotten Viennese and American light operas, or operettas, from the late 19th to early 20th century. It wouldn't have exactly been my first pick, but Justin's family is tremendously fond of the opera and of all things Austrian (owing to their family heritage), and they had invited me to come with them. I was slightly trepidatious about the experience, but determined to be open to it at the same time.

The show in question was The Rose from Stambul, a classic tale of mistaken identity, set in Istanbul. There, Kondja, the daughter of a high-ranking official, has been given a Western education and now finds the rules and strict customs of Islamic society to be stifling. Her father arranges a traditional Turkish wedding for her, to a groom she has never met. Meanwhile, Kondja has fallen in love with a European author who writes the illicit romance novels of which she is so fond, and has struck up a correspondence with him. As it turns out, the European novelist doesn't actually exists, he is merely a nom de plume created by Kondja's Turkish betrothed so that the fictional works he pens as a hobby will not be censored. Of course, hilarity ensues as Kondja's husband competes with himself for her affections, and takes three acts to convince him that he and the author are one and the same.

Thankfully, I found The Rose From Stambul to be less slumber-inducing than the regular opera, perhaps because the operetta is considered to be the forebear of modern musical theater, and we all know how I love musicals. Although the vocalists were classically-trained and sang in a style similar to that of the opera, there was spoken dialogue, everything was translated into English, and the pace moved along at a more lively rate. I wouldn't call it my favorite theatrical experience of the year, but it was also far from the worst (that dubious distinction goes to Laika: Dog in Space followed by White Noise).

The actors and actresses in the production were all impressively talented for a show staged at a small venue, though they weren't without their problems. The performer cast as Kondja, for instance, seemed slightly miscast to me, as she was really rather homely in appearance, whereas every character in the show spent their time complimenting and singing of her famously renowned beauty. The man who played her husband, Achmed, had a beautiful voice as well, but it was clear that English was not his first language and he was exceedingly difficult to understand, both in his spoken dialogue and his singing. His talent might have been better suited to a performance that wasn't in English, where his accent would have escaped unnoticed. Still, they were an undeniably skilled group of performers.

In the end, I'm not sure to whom I would recommend The Rose From Stambul; musical theater lovers might find it a bit old-fashioned for their tastes, while opera lovers might find it a bit frivolous. Perhaps opera aficionados who don't take themselves too seriously would enjoy it? If you fall into that category, by all means, give it a shot.

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