“Of Mice and Men," Utah Opera, Capitol Theater, May 5, 7, 9 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 13, at 2 p.m. For more information, visit utahopera.org or call 801-533-NOTE (6683).
During a time when financial difficulties and far-away dreams are familiar to many, a story about hope, loyalty and friendship despite all odds — set in the Great Depression-era Western United States — has a good chance of resonating with modern audiences.
Utah Opera will present an all-American experience with Carlisle Floyd’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men," beginning May 5 at Capitol Theatre.
Conductor James Lowe says the music of Floyd captures the drama and tragedy of this classic American novel in a way even audiences familiar with the story will find new and exciting.
“I think it can grab and move you in a way the book doesn’t,” Lowe said. “Opera can elevate what’s already a masterpiece. It makes it into something you’ve never seen before.”
Written in English with American folk music weaved into the score, cast members say this opera will be more accessible to the ordinary American than perhaps a typical opera would be.
“Audiences will enjoy it because it is such an American experience,” Lowe said. “It couldn’t be more of a classic of American literature. For so many years opera celebrated European culture. This celebrates what we’re about.”
George (Matthew Burns) and Lennie (Corey Bix) are two companions trying to fulfill their only dream — owning a farm of their own.
Lennie is simple and childlike, and yet his innocent actions lead to tragedy, forcing George to make a difficult choice to do what’s right for his unfortunate friend.
Bix says it was challenging but also enjoyable to figure out how to portray Lennie’s simplistic character.
“I like being able to think in childlike ways,” Bix said. “I have to approach hard topics with a childlike sympathy and not get emotionally involved. The story is very complicated and some tragic things happen, and I have to stay above that.”
Sara Gartland plays the only female role in the opera, Curley’s wife, and the victim of the opera’s major tragedy.
“She is the most outsider of everyone,” Gartland said. “She is a woman in a man’s world, and no one comes to her rescue.”
Gartland says her role has some unique musical challenges, but that she enjoys the cues in the music that help her understand the motivations of her youthful and feminine character, who yearns for her husband’s love and attention.
Though certainly a tragedy, cast members found that the majority of the music and themes of the opera are filled with hopes and dreams.
“This story is about how even in dark times we can have tremendous hope and determination,” director Kristine McIntyre said. “It’s about people acting at their best. George is a human being in hard circumstances who makes difficult and commendable choices. He is one of us.”
“If you really invest into it you can be totally touched by this piece,” Bix said. “It is a real tale of hope and of what the American dream can give you.”