By MELANIE ARMSTRONG
Eating with your hands is not usually acceptable in modern America, but then, neither is singing at the dinner table and yelling insults at your neighbors.
Guests can do this and more this weekend at “Merry Olde England on the de Jong Stage,” BYU music and theater’s spring opera festival.
This year’s opera is “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” a shortened version of the original opera by Otto Nicolai. Traditionally, the spring opera is a dinner opera, where the audience enjoys a fancy meal and a light-hearted operetta.
This year’s performance juxtaposes the theme of the show and the meal. As guests step onto the de Jong stage, they step back in time to the Garter Inn of Merry Olde England.
“It’s delightful,” said Lila Stuart-Bachelder, producer of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and professor in the BYU school of music. “The spring opera has a different design from the main stage opera of the year. It has an intimate atmosphere, more frolicsome.”
Before dinner and while they eat, the guests will enjoy a Greenshow, hosted by Dame Quickly (Stuart Bachelder) and the Eminent Bard Hopkin of Arden (J. Arden Hopkin of the BYU music department and director of “Merry Wives”).
Cast members, dressed as peasants, lords and ladies, will perform lively musical numbers about springtime, husbands and even tobacco.
The Greenshow will also feature a “joust of insults.” Guests will practice taunting each other, then chose their favorite heckler. The audience champ will face the champion insulter from the cast in a tournament of insults.
“What’s a joust for, except to establish a champ?” said L. Arden Hopkins, director.
Because of all the merriment, Stuart-Bachelder encourages guests to dress casually.
“This may be the only time in the history of BYU that the audience is not ‘cordially invited’ to wear their Sunday best,” she said.
Guests should also dress down because the meal, which features a traditional medieval menu, will probably be messy.
The fare includes roast baron of beef and whole chickens, accompanied by vegetables, peasant bread, “ale,” oat cakes and custard.
“It is planned to be eaten ‘sans silver’–without silverware–as they did during those years,” Stuart-Bachelder said.
Squeamish guests who shudder at the idea of turnips under their fingernails can earn a fork, but at a price. They must perform a song, a limerick or some other entertainment for the group.
“The only acquiescence that we have made to the 20th century is that there will be wet cloths,” Stuart-Bachelder said. She joked that she wanted a community pail for washing, but agreed to this one modern convenience.
After dinner, the opera begins. According to Stuart-Bachelder the two main themes of “Merry Wives of Windsor” are, first, that true love will eventually win out and, second, that women are smarter than men.
Twenty musicians at various levels of vocal development make up the talented cast.
“They run the gamut,” Stuart-Bachelder said. “We have one freshman and one graduate student. Everyone else is at different levels in between.”
Two performers will also play the same role throughout the evening to provide more performance experience for the actors.
With a talented cast, authentic food and a chance to break the rules a little, “An Evening in Merry Olde England” promises to be a memorable one.
Tickets for “Merry Wives of Windsor” can be purchased at the HFAC ticket office (378-4322), but must be purchased in advance to allow for menu count. Tickets are $20 per person, or $16 for groups of two or more.
The performances run June 10-13 on the de Jong Stage. Dinner starts at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts about an hour later.