Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Boston Lyric Opera draws on forgotten history with ‘The Anonymous Lover’

Photo+courtesy+of+Nile+Scott+Studios
Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios

The onstage orchestra at the intimate Huntington Theatre lit up in a purple glow as they began the overture to Le Amant Amour, or “The Anonymous Lover,” on the night of Feb. 17.

The Boston Lyric Opera production brought the 18th-century opera to life as the first show of their 2024 spring season. The opera stars Omar Najmi as Valcour, the anonymous admirer of Leontine, played by Brianna J. Robinson, who is closed off to love due to the death of her husband. Helped by friends Ophemon and Dorothee, played by Evan Hughes and Sandra Piques Eddy, they confess their love and get married. The production was directed by Dennis Whitehead Darling, and David Angus conducted the orchestra.

“The Anonymous Lover” was the most successful opera of Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint Georges. He was the first major Black aristocratic artist to produce and direct opera in France. His work was largely unknown until recently, as efforts such as this production aim to put on his shows that have been previously forgotten inhistory. 

Before the French Revolution, when Bologna lived and worked, it had “not been uncommon to see someone like Bologna having a title, having a station as a free Black man in France,” said April Gerbode, the wig and makeup designer for the opera, in an interview with the Beacon. 

They described how, after the revolution, “the attitudes toward free people of color changed drastically. Napoleon completely went in the opposite direction. He very pointedly erased that legacy.” 

Gerbode’s background is primarily in musical theater, but they grew up with opera and classical music. They played a small part in the opera “Carmen” as a child. 

They said they have always been “fascinated with this era of French fashion and art,” but this is their “first time designing for opera and designing for this era.” 

Gerbode said the overall design goal was to remain “firmly in the Chevalier de Saint-Georges’ world.” But, there were a few intentional additions to honor the opera’s creator. 

Gerbode said that, because of the erasure of people of color, “even looking for examples of Black people within art from that era is a challenge in and of itself.” 

Gerbode said that they “committed” themselves to “creating styles that spoke to the needs of people of color of that era, but still represented what you see in the portraiture of that era.” 

They took the liberty to “invent styles for natural [hair] textures that we don’t necessarily have in the historical record.”

They cited examples of such representation, like the hit Netflix show “Bridgerton” and the 2022 film “Chevalier” made about the life of Bologna himself. That was the “crux of it” they set out to address with their designs. 

“This creative team has taken such a wonderful approach to telling the story in choosing to translate the libretto into English, making it super accessible to audiences right away,” Gerbode said.

The opera was perfect for those new to this genre of musical performance like myself.  

“It’s a love story, it’s a story of how we respond when we’ve been hurt before and how we open ourselves back up [to love],. I think it is such an immediately accessible and really fun story,” they added. “If people are new to opera, this is a great opportunity to dip a toe in. This music is so breathtaking and this story is just so fun.”

The dialogue translation made the plot accessible and easy to follow while keeping the songs in their original French (with English subtitles provided) still preserved the operatic music’s artistic integrity and authentic feel. 

“Anyone who feels any apprehension about whether they’ll like it, whether they’ll be able to understand it … it’s all right there,” Gerbode said. “I really commend BLO for making that commitment to creating something that is bringing a story that a lot of people don’t know… and also creating something that doesn’t feel hundreds of years old.” 

The costumes were a highlight of the production, a total of the rich colors and luxury fabrics of the aristocratic class of the time. They dazzled amongst the intentional set pieces that complimented the costumes beautifully in their design. 

Robinson’s performance as Leontine was a stand-out show of her technique and talent for operatic singing, alongside the genuine and sincere performance of Najmi as Valcour. Hughes and Piques Eddy’s performances as Ophemon and Dorothee provided a comedic level that stole the stage amidst the arias and dramatic duets of the leading couple. 

“The Anonymous Lover” draws on a specific context and period to create a theatrical experience that was perfectly timely for the Valentine’s Day season. The Boston Lyric Opera achieved something brilliant in their accessible and entertaining adaptation of the 18th-century opera, which had once been lost to history. 

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About the Contributor
Danielle Bartholet, Assistant Living Arts Editor
Danielle Bartholet has been passionate about writing as long as she can remember, writing on her high school newspaper and then for the Berkeley Beacon since 2023. She is currently a freshman at Emerson as a WLP major and a marketing communications minor. She is from Houston, TX, and enjoys reading and writing, as well theatre.

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