Lend me an Opera Jukebox. Yuks and tenor required.

Comic operas tend to be crowd pleasers: well, a pause between all the tragic deaths and doomed lovers. The problem is that there aren’t...

Comic operas tend to be crowd pleasers: well, a pause between all the tragic deaths and doomed lovers. The problem is that there aren’t many choices. Opera companies can only program “Così Fan Tutte”, “Il Barbiere di Siviglia” or “L’Elisir d’Amore” and a handful of others a certain number of times.

So Francesca Zambello, the artistic and general director of the Glass Glow Festival, had an original idea. “I just said, ‘Let’s do a Rossini comedy that doesn’t exist yet,'” she said in a recent video chat.

In other words, a jukebox opera – “Tenor Overboard,” which is due to have its festival premiere in Cooperstown, NY on Tuesday and run through August 18.

While the jukebox format is quite common on Broadway, it is much rarer in operas. Baroque opera lends itself better to the genre than most styles, from the “pasticcio” of yesteryear, which recycled pre-existing works, to the “The Enchanted Island” in 2011, a commission from the Metropolitan Opera in which librettist Jeremy Sams inserted music by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau and others into a plot borrowed from Shakespeare’s plays.

Undaunted by this relative scarcity, or perhaps stimulated by it, Zambello called the playwright Ken Ludwig last summer to ask if he would be interested in writing the project’s booklet. He was a good fit for two reasons: he wrote the book for “Crazy for You,” the Tony-winning Gershwin musical, and his most famous play, “Lend Me a Tenor,” a prank involving a movie star. opera in the 1930s. (His new “Lend me a soprano” with lead female characters in the same basic plot, opens at the Alley Theater in Houston in September.)

Ludwig, an opera enthusiast, jumped at the chance to collaborate, in a way, with Rossini. He decided to put “Tenor Overboard” in the 1940s and stuff it with what he called “the great tropes of comic opera.”

“A lot of times it’s love stories that can’t be satisfied because the older generation is trying to get in the way of the sexual urges of the younger generation: ‘You can’t marry that boy,'” he said. in a video chat. . “I also wanted a storm – they often change the story, as they did in ‘Barber of Seville’ and ‘The Italian in Algiers’.”

Ludwig concocted a story involving two New York sisters, Gianna (Reilly Nelson) and Mimi (Jasmine Habersham), trying to escape their overbearing father and an arranged marriage for Mimi. They end up joining – in cross-dressing disguise, a beloved narrative device of Shakespeare, opera and slime comedy – an all-male quartet called the Singing Sicilians on a ship sailing to Sicily. Naturally, chaos ensues.

“Tenor Overboard” relies more on theatrical dialogue than the usual operatic recitative, so Ludwig’s libretto had to be quite long – and funny. “Rossini gave you moments that clearly land in a comedic way because he was such a comedic genius,” Ludwig told the singers. “And I tried to write a comic libretto in the same way, and in the same way my plays normally have this sense of rhythm.”

Ludwig also rearranged the supertitles that accompany the tunes, which are sung in Italian, trying to give some of them “rhyme and rhythm”, as he put it. “Opera surtitles have to convey something to people and you want people to watch the scene,” said Zambello, who is leading the production with Brenna Corner, “but these also have a little extra Ludwig humor. “

After agreeing on a general synopsis, the hard part was still to come: filling it with music — which, in the end, came from 15 different sources.

“We wanted to be absolutely sure that we weren’t just rehashing famous Rossini tunes,” Glimmerglass music director Joseph Colaneri said on Zoom. “Yes, we have the ‘Barbiere’ duo, but we wanted this piece to also represent Rossini’s lesser-known music.”

Colaneri became part detective, tracking down obscure versions of obscure operas online and in libraries, and part MacGyver, adapting certain vocal scores to make them work in their new context. The text of the duo “Barbiere”, “Dunque io son,” that Colaneri mentioned, for example, was slightly adjusted to make sense of the story. And because Ludwig’s lead couple is a mezzo and a baritone (a nod to “Dunque io son”), some transposition was in order – Rossini tended to pair a tenor and a soprano for the love duets of his comic operas.

Another challenge was the scene featuring the Singing Sicilians, who we encounter for the first time in a YMCA – because why not? Colaneri looked at male quartets in Rossini’s operas but found nothing suitable. So he turned to short pieces the composer wrote for “musical evenings” after he had stopped writing operas, and spotted the patterned song “La Danza” (recorded by Luciano Pavarottiamong others).

Colaneri had to write a vocal arrangement for two tenors, a baritone and a bass – and more. “It has to work again in the second act because two of the men are replaced by the two women dressed as men,” he said. “They sing in the female range, but I designed the piece to work with mixed vocal styles.”

“Some people would say, ‘How can you transpose Rossini? ‘” Colaneri said. “But Rossini was doing it himself all the time.”

For Act 2, Colaneri had to come up with a basso buffo aria for the sisters’ father, Petronio (Stefano de Peppo). Instead of the popular “A un dottor della mia sorte”, from “Il Barbiere”, he chose “Io, Don Profondo” from “Il Viaggio a Reims” (an opera that Rossini himself had collected for plays, in reusing a part in “Le Comte Ory”). “For me, that’s the biggest of those buffo tunes,” Colaneri said. “Rossini went too far with that. We knew we were going to get Stefano and he would be able to pull it off.

Colaneri and his cast also had to deal with the vocal embellishments and ornamentation that are part of Rossini’s interpretation. The conductor invites the singers to listen Ella Fitzgerald’s live version of “How High the Moon” for an example of masterful improvisation, which he described as “harmonically off the charts”. He also worked closely with them to come up with ornaments suited to their register and their roles. “You can’t write ornamentation for someone until you hear what they can do,” Colaneri said. “You have to kind of understand that.”

As with most comedies, speed and timing are key on stage and even off – “Tenor Overboard” hatched in about a year. “Rossini wrote his operas sometimes in a month, so why not us?” Zambello said.

Fans need to be reassured that they will laugh at Rossini, not him. “We seek to perform these pieces with all the musical integrity necessary to bring them out,” Colaneri said. “We take it all very seriously musically and put a spin on it.”

Yet it’s clear that Zambello wants this work, which is part of her final season at the helm of the Glimmerglass Festival (she remains Artistic Director of the Washington National Opera), to be downright celebratory. “It’s Italy, Sicily, the food – things people love.”

When asked if she was ready to embracing Ludwig’s love of wacky shenanigans and asking someone to throw a plate of spaghetti for a laugh, Zambello smiles. “I resist this,” she says. “But I think it will catch on.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Lend me an Opera Jukebox. Yuks and tenor required.
Lend me an Opera Jukebox. Yuks and tenor required.
Newsrust - US Top News
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