2021 | 2022 Season
Opera Parallèle presents
La Belle et la Bête
by Philip Glass
Libretto by the Composer
based on the film by Jean Cocteau
A surreal new take on a
timeless tale, fusing opera
& film live on stage.
Meet OP Newcomer Vanessa Becerra
Bringing life to the role of Belle is Peruvian and Mexican American soprano Vanessa Becerra, who makes her OP debut in La Belle et la Bête. A graduate of LA Opera’s prestigious Young Artist Program, she made her professional debut in 2014 with Fort Worth Opera in the world premiere of With Blood, With Ink. She has since performed with major opera companies and festivals across the country, earning praise for her “bold and bright” singing (Opera News), “full, beautifully focused” instrument (Wall Street Journal), and “charismatic and eloquent” presence (San Francisco Chronicle).
Becerra brings to OP experience uniquely relevant to La Belle et la Bête, including a starring role in the world premiere of The Copper Queen at Arizona Opera in 2020. Originally intended to be a live stage performance, due to COVID-19 the project was transformed into a full-length feature film, showcased at the Toronto International Women Film Festival. And in 2019 she portrayed Lise (Elisabeth) at Opera Omaha in Philip Glass’s operatic adaptation of Jean Cocteau’s novel Les Enfants Terribles. We asked Becerra to share her thoughts on performing opera for film, interpreting the work of two of the greatest artists of modern times, and portraying the iconic role of Belle.
In addition to La Belle et la Bête and The Copper Queen, have you performed in other opera productions that incorporate film?
Yes actually! But not quite to this extent. Last year with Opera San Jose we shot a one-act opera called Il Segreto di Susanna “sitcom style” with a three-camera setup, no panning. It was a lot simpler than The Copper Queen, and we even had opportunities to break the fourth wall to the “audience.” It was fun! Very I Love Lucy.
How would you describe the experience of rehearsing and performing opera that incorporates and/or interacts with film?
It is so important to be consistent. It’s a different type of consistency, because of course on stage if our direction is to stand next to the chair then we just always stand next to the chair. With film it is imperative to remember the hyper-specific details, like which exact corner of the chair you stood next to. Essentially, the details are more noticeable in film. This is hard for me, because I love how ephemeral live opera is. It’s magical when things are just slightly different every performance but still within the parameters of the world you and your colleagues have created.
Do you approach the development of your character or performance of the music differently when film is involved?
Personally, I do not. I enjoy the process of finding my own character with any role I play. The medium doesn’t change that for me.
Are there particular challenges to learning and performing Glass’s music and interpreting Cocteau’s characters?
I say it all the time, Les Enfants Terribles is possibly the hardest score I have ever learned. It’s essentially memorizing a French play with nonstop dialogue set to Glassian pitches and rhythms. I don’t speak French, so memorizing that much “dialogue” was a huge challenge. The characters are rewarding, though, so all the work is worth it!
What did you learn from performing Lise in Les Enfants Terribles that may inform your interpretation of Belle?
Cocteau’s female characters are incredibly multidimensional. Lise was an unpredictable, mercurial sphinx of a woman, whom I absolutely loved exploring. She is incredibly human, calculating, and strategic, which completely fascinated me. Belle is just as full and rich, quintessentially pure and beautiful, but she is very discerning. One of my favorite lines of hers is when La Bête says, “My heart is good, but I am a monster,” she replies, “There are many men more monstrous than you. But they hide it.” I love that so much.
What do you hope 2022 audiences will take away from your performance in La Belle et la Bête?
There are a lot of monsters out there today, in all shapes and sizes, with all sorts of opinions. I think it is easy to detach because we are constantly overwhelmed, but this strategy is a lost cause for all of us. I hope this story and Belle’s courage can inspire even just one person to humanize a stranger and remember that everyone, everyone was born with the same blood, guts, and capacity to feel.
Is there anything in particular you would like the OP audience to know about you?
I feel immensely proud to play an iconic role like Belle as a Latina! When you hear “Beauty and the Beast,” you probably think Disney first, and I just feel very honored to play the princess role when I didn’t really see myself as a lead character growing up. It’s very special!