Miss Saigon not a typical opera

By Kristy Kalin

With prostitutes, marines and a war torn tropical climate, some may be shocked that Miss Saigon is an opera. Opening on January 14, Miss Saigon has a cast of both students and community members concerned with promoting the classic art form.

“The Calgary Operetta company is part of the University of Calgary music department, just like the wind ensemble or the symphonic band,” says artistic director Colleen Whidden. “The unique thing about this company is that we really embrace the community members as well. It brings a real depth to the company to have the university students and the community members working side by side.”

It is this sense of community that Whidden believes will enrich the lives of not just the cast and crew, but the university as well. Bryan Smith– who plays Chris, the young American soldier in love with a Vietnamese prostitute– agrees.

“It’s a great show and everyone has been really fantastic to work with so I’m very excited,” says Smith. “It’s nice to know the U of C is supportive with shows like this, knowing that it’s such a huge undertaking.”

Miss Saigon was created by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, and is the 10th longest running musical on Broadway. While its roots are in the opera Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, the conflict and setting are in a more modern context .

The opera is about tragic love story between Chris and Kim, a young prostitute at a Vietnamese club. Chris is enamoured with her innocence and they spend a night together but are soon separated as the American army pulls out of Vietnam.

Separated by a mob, Chris is taken away by helicopter while Kim is left behind. Years later, Chris learns that he fathered Kim’s child and must decide between his American wife, Ellen, or Kim and his son.

“I think that it’s the classic love story, in the sense that there is the love and the romance but there’s all this turmoil and trouble,” says Selina Wong, who plays Kim. “Anyone can reach out and touch the story.”

When asked about the cast and crew, Whidden was extremely complimentary.

“Selina Wong has been wonderful to work with– wonderful singer, wonderful actress, she’ll do anything I ask, as well as Bryan Smith. He brings a real professionalism to the cast. All the supporting actors are just as passionate and just as involved in the story.”

While Miss Saigon may seem to be a far away drama, it can still relate to our present day life. Whidden asserts that the themes of love, war and prejudice resonate in 2010.

“We still live with love, we still live with war, we still live with prejudice, so I think even though it’s about Vietnam in the 1970s it’s still really relevant to not just the young people you’ll see on stage but also to the audience members.”

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