Opera at Rutgers presents first opera performed in North America Nov. 19 and 21

Imagine a string of your favorite pop hits mashed into a full-length theatrical event charged with love, greed, humor, and a bid for independence.Vincent Grana

This musical mash-up for the masses? It’s called Flora. The 1735 English ballad opera, the first opera performed on this continent, is a collection of well-known tunes of the period by a variety of anonymous composers. Opera at Rutgers will present Flora on November 19 and 21, 2010, at New Brunswick’s Nicholas Music Center. The 28-member cast includes Eileen Cooper of Hamilton, N.J., and Vincent Grana of Phillipsburg, N.J. (at right), in starring roles.

Flora features“all the popular music of the day,” producer Pamela Gilmore says. “The art form didn’t start out as an effete art form only for the upper classes. These were wildly popular operas in their day…This was music that the common person was familiar with.”

Flora, about a wealthy orphaned teenager who longs to escape her conniving guardian to marry the man she loves, features the 11-piece Musica Raritana Period Instrument Orchestra, led by Andrew Kirkman. Musicians will perform on Baroque woodwinds, lute, harpsichord, and violins to recreate the sound audiences might have experienced nearly 300 years ago. The piece has been recreated for contemporary audiences by Neely Bruce, a professor of music at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Gilmore says Flora was so popular that 40 years after the opera was first performed Flora sheet music and playbills were discovered on the bodies of slain British officers during the American Revolutionary War.

Gilmore describes the narrative as a classic operatic story. But ultimately, she says, Flora offers something fresh for opera buffs and neophytes alike.

“It’s different,” Gilmore says, “because of its humble origins.”

Flora will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday, November 19, and 2 p.m. Sunday, November 21. Tickets are $10 for the general public and for Rutgers alumni and employees and seniors and only $5 for students with valid ID. Nicholas Music Center is in the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, 85 George Street (between Route 18 and Ryders Lane), on the Douglass Campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick. For more information about any Mason Gross event, visit www.masongross.rutgers.edu or call the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center ticket office at 732-932-7511.

Read The Star-Ledger's story about preparations for Flora here.

About Opera at Rutgers

The program, founded in the 1980s, prepares students for the world of professional opera. Each year Opera at Rutgers mounts two full opera productions; past productions include Susannah, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and The Marriage of Figaro. Opera Workshop performs programs featuring fully staged scenes. The program also hosts outreach programs and master classes with renowned artists.