Angelina is a woman scorned. Still wearing her wedding dress in court, she is suing Edwin for leaving her at the altar. The judge takes his seat, the usher pleads with the jury to be “free from all bias” and Edwin tries to sway opinions. Meanwhile, Edwin’s past and current lovers are dispersed throughout the jury and audience. The Judge is actually just very lazy, and comedic stops and humor are in every other line. Is this the opera? It is, and director Robin Buck phrased it right while staging the opening scene. “I’m adding one thing,” he said. “Laughter.”
In his third time directing “Trial by Jury,” Buck calls this version “a new incarnation.” While maintaining the basic story of “breach of promise,” he admits that he takes it to another level. This version of the W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan opera features inserts from other operettas and added characters and ultimately showcases his cast of 35 in “a great light.” These performers do it all: singing, acting and dancing.
Rehearsals have taken place twice a week since the start of the quarter. Although the cast members were only given their musical scores at the end of fall quarter, they were expected to have their music memorized by the first rehearsal.
In his second opera at UC Irvine, Jonathan Sandberg, a third-year vocal performance major, plays the Judge. To get into the mind of a man whom he calls “a really laid-back jerk who did shady things to get to the position of power that he is at,” Sandberg did his homework. Although the cast only got its music at the end of fall quarter, Sandberg began his own personal rehearsals as soon as he found out he got the lead role in November.
Second-year vocal performance major Connie Li finds Sandberg’s Judge, whom she calls “a massive perv,” to be her favorite character. Li plays the Council to Angelina’s Plaintiff, and Li admits that her character is a “crazy feminist lawyer” with “a master plan to get as much money for her New England, upper-crust plaintiff as she can … my character doesn’t take any bull.” Li enjoys having the ability to play around with her character, pushing the limits to see just how she fits into such a strong silhouette.
Belinda Lau, a third-year vocal performance major, plays Angelina. The plaintiff suffers a double heartbreak: losing her rich husband and losing her promised status of living. The court case is Angelina’s second chance for monetary retribution. Lau finds ways to relate to her character through real life, but also saves some of the relating for reality television: “For Angelina, I can understand her heartbreak — what girl hasn’t experienced that? But for her money-grubbing and spoiled attitude, I draw my inspiration from the reality TV show ‘The Real Housewives of Orange County,’ ” Lau said.
Come opening night, what might you find these three leads doing to prepare for the show? Sandberg admits you might find him at the ARC. “I feel that one of the most important rituals is to have an epic workout a few hours before,” Sandberg said. He appreciates the unity created between his body and his voice and says that this routine gives him “more energy and focus in anything I do.”
Li plans to combat the jitters of her first leading performance at UCI with focus. “I like to spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to do,” Li said. “I need to mentally review a lot of things. I need to visually go through stuff, and visually reenact.”
“I spend a lot of time smiling and trying to get myself to not be nervous,” Li said.
In addition, Lau might be in her Zen zone. “I don’t necessarily have a ritual but I do tend to drink a lot of water,” she commented. “Usually though, I get into a ‘zone’ to mentally prepare myself and become very taciturn and anti-social.”
Once these performers get on stage, though, the atmosphere is anything but anti-social. This opera is fun, lively and full of comedic timing and winks to the audience. “We still have some work to do,” Sandberg said, “but there is a lot of magic being created on the stage!”
Starting Feb. 26 at Winifred Smith Hall, the cast and crew of “Trial By Jury” will have you feeling the magic and the laughter too.