There’s a drama within the drama over at The Baltimore Rock Opera Society, which is premiering its third original full-length Wagnerian-style rock opera this week, Valhella: The Ragnarøkoperetta:
Can turning Norse legends into rock-n-roll theater evolve from the goofy idea of a handful of former college buddies to an artistic juggernaut? (Of course, we’re also interested in whether the three brothers in Valhella succeed in their magical quest.)
Hoping to pierce these mysteries – and get a hit off the seemingly boundless energy of the BROS – The Brew asked a couple of cast members to write about their work on Valhella, which premiers Friday at the Autograph Playhouse on West 25th Street. (More info here.)
Kerry Brady _ From the Seats to the Stage
I first witnessed the epic talents of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society in the winter of 2010. A friend of mine was performing in Gründlehämmer, and since I was already booked for all of their performance dates, he offered to sneak me into one of the technical rehearsals so I could see what I was missing.
I entered the decommissioned church where the play was to take place and was greeted by a set constructed mainly of painted cardboard, surrounded by piles of half-completed props and costumes. Small groups of people were scattered throughout the space, working diligently to finish everything before opening night.
The show itself was still rough and unpolished (which is actually pretty normal for a rehearsal during tech week), but the level of energy and commitment to the material more than made up for its shortcomings.
The next BROS production, which took place in summer 2011, was even more ambitious. Not one, but two original rock operas (Amphion and The Terrible Secret of Lunastus, respectively) had been scheduled to be performed back-to-back on the same night.
Wagner-inspired Rock Opera: An evolving art form
The group had already learned quite a bit from their earlier experiences with the first full-length effort, Gründlehämmer. The sets were bigger, the lights were brighter, and they had even managed to secure a performance space inside an actual theater instead of the old church. Despite a few minor technical flaws, it was a pretty impressive theatrical spectacle that left a majority of the audience cheering in the aisles during the finale.
When plans for Valhella were announced, I made certain to clear my calendar in order to attend the auditions. I was both excited and a little nervous after finding out that I had been cast in the production.
Beer, opera and rock and roll
After all, the BROS have a reputation for indulging in beer, hardcore rock music, and a fraternity-like atmosphere. I am not a ‘rock star’ by any means, so participation in a work of this caliber was sure to be a daunting task for me.
Adding to my concerns was the fact that Valhella is a brand new, completely original work… one that is still developing and fluctuating with less than ten days to go (at the time of this writing) until opening night. It is a major undertaking for any professional theater company, especially one so recently established.
The BROS are well on their way to becoming one of the more professionally-run theaters in Baltimore. They are supported by a tireless group of volunteers who labor around the clock to make sure that every aspect of the production is as epically awesome as it should be. Sure, they all know how to have a good time… but the work still comes first.
Everyone involved, both onstage and off, is completely dedicated to creating a memorable experience for the audience. It has been a truly collaborative effort, and I have been consistently impressed by the creativity and ingenuity with which these artists approach their work. With each new production, they have gained more knowledge and experience to help refine their creative vision and grow their influence throughout Baltimore’s artistic community. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.
Kerry Brady studied acting at Towson University and has appeared with, among others, The Mobtown Players, Fells Point Corner Theatre, Baltimore Improv Group (BIG), and the Strand Theater Company. She played Lady Macbeth in the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s recent Macbeth. During the week, she works in a Baltimore real estate firm.
Vangie Ridgaway _ Caution: Rock Opera Work in Progress
What exactly is a “rock opera”? As a genre, I think it is still evolving, since the canon of existing shows that fall under that title is still pretty limited. Still, I always found it to be something of an inherent contradiction. Is it an opera that rocks? Is it a rock show with a plot? Or is it something else entirely?
I come from a classical background, so “rock” was never really my thing, at least vocally. That said, I loved watching the Society’s previous shows, including last fall’s production of Phantom of the Paradise.
I wanted to become involved; I just wasn’t sure if there would be a place for someone like me to contribute. However, Valhella, really piqued my interest. Before going into the audition, I discovered that there would be a trio of individuals (the three “Norns” of Norse mythology, female figures who rule the destiny of gods and men) who required a more operatic sound than any previous BROS characters.
Audition in a cold theater
Encouraged, I discarded my usual musical theatre audition songs in favor of a French aria from my classical repertoire. I ended up singing it a cappella, probably off-key, and cracking on the high notes (the theatre in January is VERY cold); but somehow I got the part anyway.
As a BROS first-timer, I’ve discovered a lot of things that I like about working the group. For one thing, I really appreciate how open they are to allowing new blood into the group. I wasn’t the only rookie this go-around; actually, the cast is almost entirely composed of people who have never been in a BROS show before.
I’m also constantly impressed by the devotion and enthusiasm of everyone involved, from the actors and band to the tech crew to the army of volunteers who build props and set pieces into the wee hours of the morning.
There at the creation
A major part of the BROS mission is a commitment to producing new and original works; and so everyone contributes to shaping the show. As an actor and a singer, I rarely have such an opportunity to be part of the creative process.
Working on the musical parts of the show was especially fun. As we learned the songs, we were given a lot of leeway to experiment and play around with harmonies and vocal decorations. In addition, at the time of our audition, the writing of the music was still very much in progress.
As a result, the composer of many of the vocal songs in the show (the very talented Erica Patoka) was able to tailor the music to our voice styles and ranges, resulting in a type of sound never before heard in a BROS show.
In the end, Valhella is a captivating mix of things old and new. The rock and spectacle that the BROS are famous for is definitely still there. However, Valhella shows an evolution towards a new type of sound that is sure to appeal to lovers of both “rock” and “opera” alike.
The final result, in my humble opinion, is nothing short of magical.
Evangeline “Vangie” Ridgaway received her BA in English and French from Wellesley College in Boston, Massachusetts, and lives in Baltimore with her husband, as well as a beagle and two cats. By day, she’s a freelance writer and editor in the educational publishing field. Nights, she’s a fate-spinning Norn in Valhella and, to better prepare for that role, is currently teaching herself how to weave.