The Aria and The Asp

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It’s not every day that Sarasota gives birth to a new opera, much less an opera comique based off a story that traditionally ends in a bit of snakish self-disposal. But that’s exactly what Sharon and David Ohrenstein have created with their latest collaboration, Patra. Based on the final days of the famed Cleopatra, after Marc Antony and before the apocryphal asp, the show will receive a special concert reading tonight at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, before heading to New York in September for a workshop and production.

Skipping over the oft-tread ground of the Egyptian ruler’s relationships with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, Patra explores that final month in Cleopatra’s life, courted by the man who would be Augustus Caesar and trying to protect her children amongst the political chaos. “The story really required an operatic treatment,” says Sharon, who wrote the book and lyrics, collaborating with David for the music. The high drama of royal courtship and tragic romance, all set against the backdrop of warring factions and the rise of an empire—while opera may not be the biggest genre of the day, Sharon admits, few would be as apt to capture the grandeur and passion of such a tale.

Still, the pair made a concerted effort to avoid slower or stiffer opera traditions and embrace more popular musical sensibilities, a trend Sharon has observed throughout the modern opera industry. “21st century opera is getting away from 20th century atonality,” she says. “It doesn’t sound like Philip Glass; it sounds like Andrew Lloyd Webber.” Or, perhaps, like Georges Bizet’s Carmen. “I love Carmen,” Sharon gushes, and the music in Patra infuses bolero, tango, international cha cha, waltzes and more into something that comes out as something of a “hybrid” of opera and musical theater. “Audiences love that rhythmic aspect,” she says. “In opera, sometimes that’s missing. But everyone’s heard Habanera. They’ve heard Toreador Song.”

The Sarasota audience will get the first listen tonight at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, where a concert reading will be staged, featuring Kathryn Parks as Cleopatra, Joseph Ryan as Octavian, Carole Cornman as Iras, Robyn Rocklein as Charmian and Baron Garriott as Marcellus. David Ohrenstein will accompany on piano. A $20 donation is requested for entry, to help defray the cost to take the show to the Seagle Music Colony in New York for the workshop. The show begins at 7:30pm.

Pictured: Kathryn Parks will sing the role of Cleopatra in tonight's concert reading of 'Patra' at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. Photo by INSTUDIO E PHOTO.

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