You don’t usually see the words fun and opera in the same sentence, but then 1st Stage of Tysons Corner never does the usual. The latest offering in their annual presentation of one-person shows features an award-winning opera singer — Lori Brown Mirabal — who knows as well as any stand-up comedian what it takes to keep an audience with you: an interesting subject, a few surprises, and plenty of laughs. In short, she makes opera fun.
Making Opera Soup is billed as a show for children and adults, and children who are old enough to enjoy simple theater will be entranced. Mirabal has a knack for getting the audience involved that exists in only the best performers.
Mirabal, who is the author as well as the star of Making Opera Soup, begins by talking about where opera began, in Italy many years ago. But, she points out, it can be sung in any language — French, German, even English. She moves on to what opera sounds like. No explanation necessary, just demonstration, as her powerful soprano voice soars into a Puccini aria. A graduate of Juilliard who holds a doctorate in Music Education from Columbia University, Mirabal could simply stop there and it would be clear why she loves opera so much.
But Mirabal is a storyteller supreme. She wants to tells a bigger story, with more audience participation. She goes into detail about how much she loves to make and eat soup. She asks the audience for ideas about what should go into a good soup. She encourages her listeners to shout ideas at her, sing with her, mimic her. She even demonstrates how opera would sound if given a boogie beat.
Then she offers up the essential elements required for opera to exist: a good story, great music, fascinating characters, and extraordinary voices. Before you know it, Mirabal has educated her audience in the four categories of voices from soprano to bass and even schooled her listeners in the mysteries of props. And she makes it entertaining every step of the way.
Although Mirabal is the main character onstage, there are two people who help her tell her love-of-opera story. One is the accompanist, Chef Stefano (Steven Gross), who plays familiar opera pieces on an electronic piano, illustrating Mirabal’s monologue and accompanying Mirabal when she sings. Gross’s background includes work on Broadway, the West End, and around the world as a music director, conductor, and pianist.
The other important person onstage is a young girl, Arielle (Arielle Russell), who appears throughout Making Opera Soup to help Mirabal illustrate how to mix up the best opera soup. She plays the spider in the story of “The Itsy, Bitsy Spider” and later helps elaborate the differences between the four classes of an orchestra’s instruments. Russell is a particularly bright light in this production, especially when she acts out the story of Gertrude, a bird with only one feather in its tail. Gertrude of course gets very jealous of all the other birds who have more than one tail feather. The story is told as an example of all the complex emotions that may be called up in just one song in an opera.
Vincent Scott has cannily directed Making Opera Soup so that it is accessible to all ages. He makes everything in the show outsized, from Mirabel’s gestures to the huge silver soup spoon she carries around. Chances are Mirabal herself tore down any semblance of a fourth wall in her original script, but just in case anyone was wondering, Scott provides cue cards for Arielle to parade around the stage as the audience sings about “strings, percussion, brass, and woodwinds.”
In addition to keeping its shows going online for many months, 1st Stage has moved this show to its outdoor venue, Boro Park, a small green space tucked in among several high-rise buildings in Tysons Corner. It’s a brilliant move, giving customers an added sense of safety as they are outdoors. Hula hoops are spread around the park, six feet away from one another. You may bring your own chair or rent one from the theater for $10.
Whether you know a lot about opera and love it dearly or know nothing about it, Making Opera Soup is a pure delight and should be enjoyed before it leaves town.
Running Time: About 45 minutes.
Making Opera Soup presented by 1st Stage plays at Boro Park, 8350 Broad St, Tysons, VA (Silver Hill Drive and Broad Street), Sunday, August 22 at 3 p.m.; Saturday, August 28 at 3 p.m.; and Sunday, August 29 at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 and available online or by calling 703-854-1856.
Charmed Life, written by and starring Lori Brown Mirabal, directed by Vincent Scott, will be performed at the same location August 27 and 28, 2021. This autobiographical solo performance tells not only Mirabal’s own story, but also pays homage to famous opera artists who have gone before, and specifically to the Black women opera singers of the past. To purchase tickets ($20, general admission; $15, military; $10, student) and for more information, go to 1ststage.org/charmedlife.
Artistic Director: Alex Levy
Writer and performer: Lori Brown Mirabal
Director: Vincent Scott
Young Performer: Ariel Russell
Accompanist: Steven Gross
Audio Engineer: Phoenix Henkle
Stage Manager: Kathryn Dooley
Technical Director: Joseph Miller