Baritone in Drag – Lake George Opera

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – Opera audiences have always been infatuated with the “pants-role” (a woman playing the role of a man), but what about a “dress-role?” It is indeed rare that a man plays the role of a woman throughout the length of an opera. This makes Donizetti’s, Viva la Mamma, one of a kind. Lake George Opera paired this hilarious opera with a production of Carmen in their 49th season.

The opera opened with a scene written specifically for Lake George Opera by the director, Nelson Sheeley and, the late, John Douglas. In the opening, we come to understand that a ragtag opera company has just lost their soprano for an upcoming performance. The entertaining scene is complete with impromptu auditions for the open soprano spot, inherently setting the comedic tone for Donizetti’s oddball of an opera. Once the administration is forced to choose a soprano, they transition seamlessly into the rehearsal of their upcoming production, which is the start of Donizetti’s opera. Viva la Mamma is full of stereotypical divas that you would find in an opera company and the plot could not be more relevant to what happens to companies today. As the rehearsal unfolds the audience quickly realizes that the opera within the opera is nothing short of a train wreck and everyone involved is, by varying degrees, a diva. It is evident that this opera company’s future looks very grim.

Enter Mamma Agata, played by baritone Richard Holmes (originally written for a baritone), who is in no way shape or form a subtle character. Imagine your stereotypical stage mother who wants nothing more than to live in the limelight. Donizetti’s farce is now kicked into overdrive as Mamma, the mother of Luigia, the Seconda Donna, bursts onto the scene demanding that her daughter is given a larger role in the opera. Mamma wreaks havoc on the production by causing most of the cast members to quit the opera and then attempts to fill the role of the mezzo. It’s to no surprise that the opera within the opera is cancelled and the company flees town to avoid the angry patrons that have lost their money to the flop. However comedic Viva la Mamma pretends to be, it’s unfortunate to note that this very situation has happened to opera companies in the recent years.

At times, the comedy was overwhelming when the singer, mostly Holmes, would overemphasize the melodrama. The entire production, however, was filled with many brilliantly timed comedic moments thanks to the direction of Nelson Sheeley. Kenneth Mattice who played Procolo, the Prima Donna’s husband, stood out as one of the stronger voices in the cast with a gifted technique and warm, inviting timbre. John Tsotsoros was also a standout voice as Guglielmo.

Viva la Mamma or Le Convenienze ed Inconvenienze Teatrali lacks any memorable arias but is filled with your typical Donizetti ensemble numbers and, surprisingly, a great deal of recitative. It’s a perfect show for a small opera company because of it’s comedic affair, brevity, and low budget nature. It also seems to fit well in a Young Artist Program, as Seattle Opera has a production scheduled this fall: Viva la Mamma

We applaud Lake George Opera at Saratoga for programming an opera that has very little life in the operatic repertoire. There are certainly some good reasons that Viva la Mamma is not done often, but who wants to see the same fifteen operas over and over again? We look forward to LGO’s 50th season in 2011!

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