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A ‘Merry’ new challenge for Northeastern director

Boston’s dog days of summer can be especially stifling for fans of classical music. Their stagnation, of course, has less to do with the heat and more to do with the citywide drought of concerts and performances. That’s where the Boston Midsummer Opera comes in.

The Boston Midsummer Opera stages performances each summer, choosing pieces that appeal to veteran operagoers and first timers alike. This season, Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, an associate professor of theatre in Northeastern’s College of Arts, Media, and Design, will make his operatic directorial debut with a new production of composer Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. William Shakespeare wrote the original play, a comedy set in the Elizabethan era.

“It has been a wonderful experience because my first love has always been opera,” said Ocampo-Guzman, who had led acting workshops for opera singers but never directed them on stage.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is quite popular in Europe but is seldom performed in the United States. Ocampo-Guzman said audiences and companies here tend to prefer Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff, an opera adapted from the same Shakespeare play.

Ocampo-Guzman’s version of Windsor features an English translation of the original German score. But he’s worked hard to ensure that the performance remains true to its German roots by writing lines in Sprechgesang, a style of dramatic vocalization between singing and speaking.

Directing an opera poses particular challenges, Ocampo-Guzman noted, once of which is ensuring that the actors remain in constant contact with the conductor.

“If I’m directing a play I’ll let my actors find the shape of the scene through improvisation and we’ll create the staging organically,” he said. “Singers in an opera have to find a way to follow the conductor and be in a position where their voices can carry out over the orchestra.”

The actors, Ocampo-Guzman said, must simultaneously fulfill dual responsibilities. “Opera singers exist in two worlds at the same time,” he said. “They have the story they’re telling on stage, but they also have to negotiate the music that they’re singing. Everything has to go hand-in-hand.”

The Merry Wives of Windsor, the Boston Midsummer Opera’s eighth annual production, will be performed at Boston University’s Tsai Performing Arts Center on July 24 and July 26 at 7 p.m. and on July 28 at 3 p.m. A pre-concert lecture begins one hour before each performance.

Photo by Brooks Canaday.