On July 20, 2016, the Dresser experienced L'Opera Seria with music by the prolific Baroque composer Florian Leopold Gassmann and words by Ranieri de'Calzabigi (known for his collaborations with Christoph Willibald Gluck). Producing this colorful and chaotic United States premiere of this opera within an opera, Wolf Trap Opera offered a learning experience with its four performances. The last performance is July 23 at the Barns of Wolf Trap.
The Dresser was able to catch Kim Witman's preshow talk and felt this was an important extension of seeing the Wolf Trap Opera production. Why? Gassmann wrote 21 operas and was a precursor of Mozart and Salieri and not many operagoers know much about Gassmann. Now while the Dresser didn't find the music of L'Opera Seria particularly memorable, though it was satisfying in the way Baroque compositions can be, she thought the libretto offered an excellent learning opportunity.
L'Opera Seria mocks serious opera in a number of ways. It makes fun of the cult of the diva which includes the claques, or fan clubs, around the diva. It exaggerates the coloratura singing style that features lots of notes for one single syllable. It plays with singers who throw fits and want to substitute arias they are familiar with but are not part of the work they are suppose to singing. This phenomenon is known as aria di baule (in Italian) as well as insertion or trunk arias. It also mocks what was known in baroque opera as the simile aria where what was happening in the character's life was related to some natural phenomenon.
Director Matthew Ozawa's (he directed the successful 2014 Wolf Trap production of Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias) approach for L'Opera Seria was to update the timeframe and to use such current day theater practices as planting players in the audience to invigorate the slow drag of this very busy three-act, three-hour obscure work.
What the Dresser loved about this production was the acting and singing of Korean baritone Kihun Yoon as Sospiro, the librettist. His ability to emote his vexation when either the composer Delirio (tenor Jonas Hacker) or the impresario (director) Fallito (bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba) attack his libretto out did what an Italian singer playing that role could have done. He was a great pleasure to hear and see. Certainly the fact is that the entire cast was good, Yoon, however, was exceptional.
Of the designers working on L'Opera Seria, Sally Dolembo's costumes, particularly in the third act which is when Sospiro and Deliro's opera is staged, burst with color and shape.
The Dresser also appreciated that conductor Eric Melear put his harpsichordist on stage to keep the audience anchored to the fact that this opera indeed drew its sound from the Baroque period.
One does not need the particulars of de'Calzabigi's libretto after one hears Witman's preshow talk. This the Dresser finds curiously interesting since her enjoyment stemmed mainly from everything that had to do with libretto and the singer playing the librettist. In Ayaz Pirani's poem "Written with the Other Hand," the reader enters a mysterious world where what is written seems to be tongue in cheek at best or completely out of control. This mirrors L'Opera Seria which clearly is not a serious but comic opera, but on the other hand with all its mocking is much more serious than we know.
WRITTEN WITH THE OTHER HAND
I don't need to
love a good whipping
to be a prophet
among my people.
I'm not choosing my words.
My people don't
want to know all
the things I've lost.
They had to go.
If my words are
they're on their own.
by Ayaz Pirani
from Happy You Are Here
"Written with the Other Hand" copyright © 2016 Ayaz Pirani
Photos by Scott Suchman