Saturday, May 12, 2018

Gateway Opera - 15 Minute Mozart

     One of the joys which comes from living in the St. Louis area is that there are four opera companies: Opera Theater of St. Louis, Union Ave. Opera, Winter Opera and (the new kids on the block) Gateway Opera. As far as I can tell Gateway Opera is a creation of love on the part of a number of committed and creative folks. I don't actually know the history, but I do know that one very important part of the success of Gateway Opera is Caetlyn Van Buren who does double duty as the stage director and writer!  Caetlyn's creativity is responsible for a number of the works they have performed, and this year's presentation: 15 Minute Mozart - is a great example.  Taking the great Mozart/Da Ponte masterpieces (Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan Tutte) and condensing them all into three 15 minute segments must have been quite a task.  But the result is not only completely successful, but it is hilarious. Not only does she reconstruct the music so it all fits within the time frame (she describes the process in the program), but she has reworked the libretto in a way that both lays out the basic narrative of the stories and then even comments on the plots themselves.  It was simply terrific and completely in the tradition on late 18th century popular Viennese theater where this kind of parody was popular entertainment for the general public.  There is a scene in "Amadeus" the film that takes place at one of these which is making fun of Don Giovanni, and Mozart loved it - which is one of the few things the movie actually gets right historically.

     Of course for all of the brilliance of the pieces they would all fall flat if they didn't have a cast to perform them that was really also terrific. Every single member of the cast was excellent.  I don't even want to lift up individuals because someone would get left out and that would be a shame. But I'll forge ahead anyway.  The company had 8 performers: 3 male singers, 4 women and one silent male actor!  Everyone one of them had moments where they stole the show.  A few of my favorite moments: Erika Cockerham's wonderful scene-stealing tantrum and then her quick transformation to flirty Dorabella, not to mention her lusty Cherubino; all of Laural Ellison Dantas' interactions with the silent Masetto of Shane Signorino and her silly Barbaraina and very funny Despina; Sara Gottman's irreverent Susannah and her stalker Donna Elvira; Anthony Heinemann was hilarious as a Don Ottavio who takes himself way too seriously and then teaming up with Jason Mallory as the boys in Cosi whose appearance as the "Albanians" just about stopped the show. Jason also played an excellent Figaro and Leporello. Kate Reimann had the "serious" roles of the Countess and Donna Anna, but she got perhaps the longest of any of the arias with "Come scolio" which was incredibly well sung.  And then Matt Pentecost played all the bad guys: Count Almaviva, Don Giovanni and Don Alfonso and as always he was terrific!  All of the singing and acting was great. I should add that the characterizations were all a little over the top - lusty Cherubino, stalker Donna Anna, irreverent Susanna, non sense of humor Don Ottavio - all of these behaviors are a part of the original character but one of the brilliant dimensions of these pieces is that Van Buren is able to bring them out in a way that would simply not be possible if you were to do the entire opera. 

    Of course, any time you condense an opera to 15 minutes you are going to miss something and I could give a list of all my favorite bits that were missing, but that would be to miss the point.  The point was parody and presenting the stories and if you had never seen any of these works you would leave with the basic plot in mind.  And if you are a veteran of hundreds of performances of these operas like me you leave with the reminder that these works are, after all, supposed to be comedies. Comedies in the Shakespearean way of understanding comedy perhaps, but still comedies. There is darkness, just like in Shakespeare, but it seems to me that most productions now emphasize the dark side of the works and it is easy to forget that there is a comedic dimension as well. These three re-workings created by Caetlyn Van Buren remind us that they are at the heart of it all holding up a mirror to for us to see ourselves and what we see should not only be all of the failure and disfunction but we should be able to laugh at ourselves too. And, by the way, I want to go on record as saying her take on the ending of Cosi is as good an interpretation as any I have ever seen and better than most! She does not shy away from ambiguity! Brava!

     I said above that Mozart had a great sense of humor and was perfectly capable of laughing at himself (Da Ponte, well not so much perhaps) but I think Mozart would have loved this evening's performance and would have laughed his ass off.  Bravi tutti!  Great job! And thanks for a wonderfully fun and entertaining evening!