One of the most well-known myths in Ovid’s Metamorphoses occurs in Book X: as Cupid accidentally pricks his mother Venus with one of his arrows, she falls in love with a mortal, the irresistibly attractive Adonis. The resulting conflict is an emotional rollercoaster of love, desire and grief. The University’s Opera Society return to the spotlight with their own promising take on the popular myth, adapting John Blow’s 17th century baroque composition to the Byre Theatre – with ambitious productions behind their backs like last year’s Orpheus in the Underworld and the interactive Coffee Cantata, it is safe to assume that OpSoc has another hit on their hands. The Saint sat down with crew members Juliet Boobbyer and Preston Firestone for some details on their upcoming adaptation of Venus and Adonis.
“It is essentially a satirical comedy between Venus and Cupid that pokes fun at the romantic exploits of both mythical characters and the audience”, Mr Firestone explained. Its straightforward love story leaves plenty of space for character-centrism and hints at universal emotions, bringing its mythical setting closer to the audience. “It is a pastoral setting in which the chorus is a group of shepherds and shepherdesses”, Ms Boobbyer revealed. “The play starts with Cupid telling them off for not engaging with each other romantically, while later he instructs little Cupids like a sort of puppet-master of the plot. He is the orchestrator at the centre of the conflict.”
To merge the imaginary lines of separation between stage and audience even further, the crew chose to bring the setting to contemporary St Andrews. “The humour is relatable, but it can easily get lost in its distant setting in time and space.” This version’s goal is to make opera more accessible to a student audience. With the humour contextualised in St Andrews-related topics, the messages conveyed in the original play are rendered more relatable. “We’re not only aiming for reactions like “Wow, the singing is great”, but also “Oh, that was funny!” This also entails featured appearances by essential St Andrean groups such as Sally’s choir and the Shinty team, while costumes will also be inspired by references to particular cultural elements of the town.
At the time of the interview, the cast and crew were only in their third week of rehearsals. “We’ve been working on a tight schedule and still have plenty to do. One of the biggest challenges is trying to get it blocked on such short notice and make the music sound naturalistic in the St Andrews setting”, Ms. Boobbyer admitted. “Studying the score is one thing, but once the cast start truly understanding it, they realize how complex and difficult some parts are. It’s coming to sound great, but there are parts that are really challenging”, continued Mr. Firestone. The crew remains confident that they will bring their best form to the Byre later this week.
When asked about a story to share from their rehearsals, Ms. Boobbyer recalled their first gathering with a smile: “I asked the cast to walk around in the room, as in a drama class. I could see they were confused, thinking “Why aren’t we singing?”, but I think this approach will translate well on the stage.” Mr. Firestone concluded, “What we aim to achieve is to get our actors to act as people instead of singers to act. Attempting this with various methods is a lot of fun and certainly the greatest challenge of this production.”
Venus and Adonis premieres this Sunday 14th October at 2:30 p.m., which will be followed by two other performances at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday and Monday 15th. Regular ticket prices are ₤10, student tickets are ₤8.