Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Undercroft Opera’s production of Mozart’s light hearted La Clemenza di Tito last Saturday was the wide ranging vocal and instrumental talent that came together in this all-volunteer endeavor. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I descended the linoleum staircase, past a large cafeteria that had been converted into a greenroom, and into a narrow atrium that led into the subterranean auditorium of the Elizabeth Seton Center; a hill-top convent in the Brookline neighborhood of Pittsburgh’s South Hills. My first thoughts were spurred by the sight of an enormous orchestra, seated on the floor and extending past the proscenium, as I wondered if the intimate space would be overwhelmed by such forces. I was delightfully surprised by the strong acoustic and impressed by the ability of the group as they launched into the overture. The orchestra was also entirely comprised of volunteer musicians wrangled and conducted by Maestro Walter Morales, who kept the evening together under a disciplined baton and with an air of encouraging friendliness that could be read on the musicians faces as they played for him.
What unraveled across the evening was an unpretentious, honest and smile-inducing production, within which the enthusiasm of its cast shone brightly thanks to their love of performing. Indeed, winning such an opportunity as working in a full-scale opera production is no small feat, and the forces required to bring something even of the simplest magnitude to fruition are hefty. While Undercroft prides itself as a “community” opera company, living up to the motto on their website, “Because everybody deserves an ‘Operatunity,’” opera brings together the complexities of staging a play, coordinating a musical, and taking for granted memorizing two hours worth of rhythms, notes and dialogue entirely in (in this case) Italian. The notion of a community production should by no means be looked down upon, but deserves great admiration for realizing said “operatunities” for people who possess the will and instrument, but may not have the luxury of finding the chance to flex them. Founding Director Mary Beth Sederburg has made it her mission with this company to provide for those individuals by creating a compelling venue for them to perform “in their hometown,” and succeeds with good results.
The cast carried themselves quite well, and showcased more than a few able individuals. Perhaps the brightest stars of the evening were Adele Grabowski and Melissa Bailey, who played Annius and Sextus respectively, the two teenage boys that incite and later resolve the dramatic events which transpire. Miss Grabowski is only a freshman studying voice at Carnegie Mellon School of Music and seems to be off to a fine start. Ms. Bailey, a graduate of Point Park, provided a perfect balance to Miss Grabowski, and has already amassed an impressive list of credits including an appearance with Pittsburgh’s Microscopic Opera Company. The remainder of the intimate cast included tenor Seth Gruber in the role of Titus, baritone Zachary Luchetti as Publius, and Candice Shaughnessy and Gail Novak Mosites as Vitellia and Servilla, all of whom sang and acted well. A small chorus, prepared by Chorus Master Bill Larson, tied the ensemble together and neatly embellished director Patrick Brannan’s effective staging.
In all, Undercroft Opera has put together a unique and compelling venue that not only brings together a wide spectrum of established and emerging talent, but showcases something very special to communities that you might not regularly encounter at the opera house.