Frequently Asked Questions
We realize that not everyone who might be an audience member at one of our future stage shows may be familiar with Operetta, the art form that is at the heart of our repertoire. This page is for those who might not be sure and who may need a little friendly persuasion. We hope this will answer any questions you might have and make you curious enough to come to one of our shows and get hooked!
Question: O.K., so what’s an Operetta?
Answer: An operetta is a form of a play acted out on stage with music in the form of songs and choruses. In many ways it's just like a Broadway Musical or an Opera. There are people in costume on stage and they’ll sing depending on the plot and circumstances. There is a live orchestra in a pit in front of the stage, and there is brightly lit scenery to delight the audience.
Question: How’s an Operetta different from a Broadway musical, then?
Answer: In terms of basic theatrical presentation – cast, chorus, orchestra, sets, lights, costumes and all that stuff – it isn't.
Almost all forms of stage musicals – Grand Opera, Operettas, or Broadway – are love stories. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl because of the plot, and so on. Grand Operas end, though, when poor girl or boy (or both) die tragic deaths, boo-hoo. In Operettas, like Broadway Musicals, boy always gets girl back and they live happily ever after.
Generic Operetta: Boy meets girl, boy almost loses girl, boy gets girl, in fact, everybody is happy and sings about it.
Since we are committed to family entertainment, we like presenting operetta because of its happy endings and because it avoids topics of disease, tragedy, war, and violence. We figure you get enough of that on TV and in the newspaper and need a break. Most of our operettas are lighthearted comedies and make fun of society and human nature.
Question: So why aren’t they called “Musicals”?
Answer: They could be. Once upon a time, new musicals and operettas were produced on Broadway and London in equal numbers. Producers invented the terms “Musical Play” and “Musical Comedy” to make operetta seem trendier. It was marketing hype, pure and simple.
It takes an expert to tell an early musical comedy apart from an operetta.
Question: Why don’t people produce new operettas today?
Answer: We wish we knew. Maybe it’s that the name seems more like “Grand Opera”. Certainly a lot of recently written musicals are more like Opera than Operettas.
Question: Will I be bored?
Answer: No. We’re here to entertain you. We want you to laugh and have a good time and enjoyable evening and come back and see more shows.
Question: Will my children be bored?
Answer: Not a chance. Go and see what actual kids who’ve come to our shows thought. Click the “back” button on your browser to come back here once you're convinced. Go ahead, we’ll wait.
Question: With you so far, but how about the music?
Answer: OK, the biggest difference is in the music. “Musicals” tend to use popular music styles, especially popular dance and popular “ballad” types of songs. Musicals also use “pop” singing and generally use amplified voices, just like from a stereo or rock concert.
Operas use strictly classical styles of music and instruments. Operettas are more like operas than musicals in this regard, though because the situations are happy, the music is much lighter, and on the whole, snappier and more tuneful. Sometimes, depending on when the operetta was written, jazz, ragtime or other popular music styles of the day will appear in the orchestral scoring. You'll be amazed how fast our orchestra can play when they need to!
Question: Do I have to understand classical music?
Answer: No. Relax. It’s just music. We bet you that you'll walk out of our theater humming at least one tune.
Question: And the singing??
Answer: Well, this is usually the biggest difference that most people notice right away: We don’t use amplification. Usually our singers use a style called “Bel Canto” (literally it means “Beautiful Song”). It's a technique to sing loudly (we call it “projection”), but still stay on key and be understood (we call that “diction”). If you are familiar with Frederica von Stade or Andrea Bocelli it’s how they usually sing. When most operettas were written, you see, there were no microphones or amplifiers in theaters (not to mention electricity to power them) and it was how most artists sang in order to have the audience hear them.
Broadway musicals prior to about 1955 were routinely sung this way, too, it’s just not the style today. In some shows, you'll be surprised how fast our singers can sing!
So don’t worry, you'll hear us loud and clear, every word. Our venues also offer infrared hearing assistance devices for the hearing impaired.
Question: Will I understand what is going on?
Answer: Of course. We want you to have a good time and know you won’t enjoy our show if you didn’t. First, all of our shows are presented in English and we take particular care with translations. Still, sometimes it may be difficult to make out the words in a song because its going so fast. To help with this, we have implemented supertitles, in which the words are projected on the wall over the stage. Then, Operettas, unlike Operas, have dialog between songs for plot development. Just like most Broadway Musicals, and you understand those, right?
Things haven’t changed so much since our operettas were written that you wouldn’t understand what the characters are doing. People, especially, haven't changed. When there's a word or a reference to something old, we'll provide a glossary in our program to which you can refer. Sometimes, we'll even change a word to a contemporary reference if it makes no difference in the plot or action. Sometimes this gives us an opportunity to poke fun at politicians or current events.
Question: How long are the shows? I’ve heard Operas can be verrrrry long?
Answer: On average our shows are in two acts and last a little under 2½ hours. There’s always an intermission between acts, or if there are three acts, two intermissions. An 8 PM show usually is over by about 10:30 PM.
Question: Do you sell refreshments?
Answer: Yes, refreshments are on sale in the lobby before the show and during intermission.
Question: Why do you spell theater “Theatre”?
Answer: It's an affectation, really. It's the British English way of spelling the word, rather than American English. Since we are the performing troupe of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of San José, and Gilbert and Sullivan were both English, I guess it stands to reason.