LGBT Opera Under the Rainbow has its world premier at Valencia College

By : Susan Clary
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Orlando – Valencia College Professor Alan Gerber didn’t have to struggle with a disapproving mother who hid behind conservative values and church teachings. So, he avoided the heartache of growing up gay and misunderstood.

But he knew the narrative all too well. It was the story of his partner of 22 years Mark Romig, and many other friends and colleagues. As a singer and musician, Gerber felt compelled to share this LGBT experience.

So, he composed his first opera on the subject titled Under the Rainbow. His colleague Professor Carla DelVillaggio loved the piece and chose to use it for her Opera-Theatre Workshop, which she developed in 2005 for students interested in those vocations.

For the first time, Valencia students will perform Under the Rainbow on Dec. 6 and 7 at the Black Box Theater on Valencia’s East Campus. The event, which includes a theater vignette following the opera, is free to the public. Gerber is excited about the production.

“This exists in a lot of families, but there is a silence code,” Gerber says of the tension between parents and their gay children. “It’s a little like the Cheneys. One daughter is running for office. She supported her lesbian sister, but now that she is out in public trying to appease her constituents, it’s a different ball game.”

The storyline follows a mother, Katherine, who has big dreams for her baby son, Kevin. She dreams he will marry a nice girl and give her grandchildren. The opera takes place in Anyplace, USA where LGBT communities are now seeing gay marriage pass in their states.

Fast forward 20 years and Kevin approaches his mother at church, where she is overseeing a choir rehearsal. He hands her his wedding invitation. He will marry his longtime partner, Peter. A sister, Janet, tries to convince their mother to join the family celebration to no avail.

Another key character, an Angel who appears throughout the piece, sings a Gregorian melody, Ubi caritas, to inspire the Katherine.

Katherine sits in the church and seeks the answer to the question of how she can support her gay son and obey the church. The angel sings “where charity and love is, there is God,” to help her answer the question.

“The music is cathartic,” Gerber says. “This drama exists for a lot of people and sometimes people have to have a vision of the best outcome. If something like this gives them that vision, maybe that reality will be created.”

Early in the one-act opera, there is a scene between the church minister and a gay rights activist. The minister quotes the standard verses from Leviticus in the Old Testament as Biblical proof of God’s disapproval of marriage equality. The activist quotes other passages and a scuffle ensues.

Though Under the Rainbow is an opera, a jazz performance is incorporated into the work. A student orchestra will perform the music.

In addition, the Academy Award-winning ballad Over the Rainbow, from the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz, can be heard as a homage to Judy Garland’s song. The melody that plays at the beginning is an inversion of the tune. Gerber has always loved the movie.

The all-student cast includes: Crystal Lizardo as Katherine, Steven Flores as Kevin, Joseph Ashenheim as Peter, Emily Grainger as the Angel, Elizabeth Tummons as Janet, Ricardo Dominguez as the minister, Kassy Eugene as the gay rights activist and Adiana Nunez and Hannah Roman as her friends.

“It’s exciting for the kids,” says Professor Carla DelVillaggio, who has 21 students in this semester’s class. “It’s a challenge to them to create these characters for the first time. You can’t find it anywhere else to listen to so hopefully it will be very special to them and to the audience, as well.”

Staying true to the title of her workshop, DelVillaggio has dedicated the second half of the show to musical theater. The first segment after intermission features three Cole Porter songs:

The Leader of a Big-Time Band, Thank You So Much, Mrs. Lowsborough-Goodby and Blow Gabriel Blow. The second segment, with three solos, features songs from Mark Campbell’s Songs From An Unmade Bed, funny and light stories on New York’s gay life.

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, a song cycle with music by Janet Hood and Bill Russell, will feature songs and monologues inspired by the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology for the third segment.

Each of the monologues is written from the perspective of characters that have died of AIDS and the songs represent the feelings of friends and family members dealing with the loss. The piece was developed in the late 1980s and was originally titled The Quilt.

The performance will end on a happy note with songs from Elf and White Christmas to wish everyone a happy holiday. The entire show is about 2-1/2 hours with an intermission.

“I love all these works,” DelVillaggio says. “They are funny and poignant. They have affected the students in a not-totally unexpected way. We are in tears from one song to the next.”

Although both performances are free and open to the public, the Black Box Theatre is small and holds approximately 100 people. Early arrival is recommended. Also, attendees are invited to bring an unwrapped gift for a child between the ages of 6 months and 17 years. The toys will be donated to Kids Beating Cancer, a local organization founded by Margaret Guedes, whose son died from cancer. Valencia music students will deliver the gifts personally and sing for the children.

More Info:
WHAT: Under the Rainbow
WHEN: Dec. 6-7 at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Black Box Theatre, Valencia College East, 711 Econlockhatchee Trail
ADMISSION: Free with an unwrapped toy
TICKETS: ValenciaCollege.edu/Arts; 407-582-2900

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