COG1_1526.jpg: The Comic Opera Guild will present its fifth ÒVictor Herbert FestivalÓ this weekend at Madonna College. Photo: Comic Opera Guild
COG2_1526.jpg: Greg Wakefield, Barbara Scanlon and Nick Fitzer in a recent production of “Pirates of Penzance.” Photo: Comic Opera Guild
ANN ARBOR — Music lovers will have an opportunity to experience two nearly-forgotten works by ÒAmericaÕs first musical superstarÓ this weekend when the Comic Opera Guild presents its fifth ÒVictor Herbert FestivalÓ at Madonna College in Livonia.
ÒWeÕre essentially resurrecting something thatÕs been buried for almost a hundred years,Ó the GuildÕs founder and managing director Tom Petiet said of the two operettas, ÒHer RegimentÓ and ÒMlle. Rosita,Ó his company will present during the two-day festival. ÒItÕs historically significant, since these are the only productions of these shows (people) will probably ever get a chance to see.Ó
The performances are part of a series designed to introduce — or reintroduce — audiences to a composer whose toe-tapping creations greatly influenced the American musical theater throughout the early 20th century.
Probably best remembered today as the composer of ÒBabes in ToylandÓ and ÒNaughty Marietta,Ó Herbert is becoming popular again, thanks to the efforts of groups like the Comic Opera Guild. ÒWe think this type of music is something anybody can enjoy,Ó Petiet said.
That is, if the word ÒoperettaÓ doesnÕt scare them off.
ÒThere are a lot of misconceptions in this country about operettas,Ó said Petiet, an Ann Arbor-based commercial artist who created the Guild to popularize that type of music. ÒTheyÕre much funnier than people think they are.Ó
Unlike an opera, in which every word is sung, an operetta weaves short segments of spoken dialogue between songs. And generally, its themes are ÒlightÓ — that is, less serious than those found in operas.
Both of the pieces in this weekÕs festival are indeed ÒlightÓ — as both tell farcical stories about people unable to marry because of their social status.
ÒWe donÕt do all of the dialogue,Ó Petiet said. ÒItÕs a concert version, done from music stands — like speakersÕ theater. But we include a narration and portions of the dialogue from the shows.Ó
Since much of the operettasÕ dialogue has been lost, musical director Adam Aceto has pieced together what theyÕll deliver by searching various collections and libraries throughout the country.
ÒHeÕs done so much scholarship that heÕs now pretty much the leading authority on the music of Victor Herbert,Ó Petiet said.
So much so, that the dialogue patrons will hear this week often will be better than what was originally spoken a century ago. ÒHerbert was, in many cases, working with (writers who were) the hacks of the day, so what we try to do is bring the better dialogue back — or we actually improve it,Ó Petiet said.
Petiet developed his taste for operettas while earning an undergraduate degree in industrial design at the University of Michigan. An only child, Petiet spent hours listening to his parentsÕ record collection.
ÒThey were from Europe, so they had a lot of operettas, opera music and classical music, so obviously I learned to love that stuff,Ó he said. That brought him to the universityÕs Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Òwhich opened up a whole other world.Ó
But the budding performer got bored with the limited repertoire. ÒI could not convince any of those people to do anything but Gilbert & Sullivan, so I decided it was time to do all the other great shows that are out there.Ó
That led to the creation of the Comic Opera Guild in 1973, which draws its classically-trained singers from as far away as Ohio. ÒI canÕt believe how many shows weÕve done — probably 60 or 70.Ó
But with state arts grants drying up, maintaining the groupÕs solvency isnÕt easy. So the Ann Arbor-based group has recently broadened its market by staging shows at both The Village Theater at Cherry Hill in Canton and Madonna College.
ÒWhat keeps us going is that the singers we attract like this material. ItÕs not as heavy as opera, and itÕs a lot more fun to do!Ó Petiet said.