By Philippa Kiraly
There can be only have been one really good reason for Seattle Opera Young Artists Program to perform Donizetti’s “Viva la Mamma!” or to give it its full Italian name “Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali.”
That reason lies in the person of baritone Daniel Scofield, who undertakes the role of the aforementioned Mamma! in drag (as it was originally written), and succeeds triumphantly and hilariously as well as musically to hold the stage whenever he is on it.
“Viva” is an unevenly written farce, a frothy romp with so little substance and so disjointed a plot that there is little to hold onto, while the music comes from before Donizetti has really found his own distinctive voice. It only works if there is excellent acting and staging, and thank goodness, this production has both, thanks to the young singers and to stage director Jeffrey Marc Buchman. Half the fun is that all of the roles are instantly recognizable to anyone who has been backstage during a production.
The story is of an amateur troupe rehearsing an opera, with the composer, the poet and the impresario trying to get it going, while the Prima Donna behaves up to her name, one singer and then another walks out, the Seconda Donna’s mother barges her way in to throw weight around, and the Prima Donna’s husband creates scenes around his wife’s requirements. The whole ends with the production collapsing, the cast absconding and the investors losing their money.
Out of the cast of nine, only two singers have substantial roles: the Prima Donna, sung by soprano Amanda Opuszynski, and Scofield’s Mamma. In true farcical form everyone overacts outrageously. Many acting asides keep the audience laughing and fill out the story, such as the collapsing music stand and the steam inhaler for the tenor lead (Eric Neuville), one of the walkouts, to the enormous red feather boa used emphatically by the prima donna’s husband ( bass-baritone Adrian Rosas) to almost everything worn or used by Scofield particularly the umbrella. Even the pianist, Kelly Kuo—not officially part of the cast—saunters on at the start, swiping a donut or two from the cast’s food on the way.
Scofield is a true comic, funny in every movement and gesture, but he can also sing. One wonders how difficult it is for him to sing as badly as he does in the second act as he tries to fill the role of one of the walkouts. He’s not the only one. Rosas, another excellent singer in the first half, manages to sound both wooden and flat as he takes on the other walkout’s part. Opuszynski’s florid first act aria shows how easily she can encompass this style, but at the same time she is exaggerating every moment, and it’s hard to tell whether her voice is normally rather shrill as she sings louder or if she was putting it on.
While she and Scofield carried the lions’ share of the singing, it was possible to hear and appreciate the attractive voices and good supportive acting of the remaining cast: baritone David Krohn as the Maestro, bass Erik Anstine as the Poet, guest artist bass Joseph Beutel as the Impresario, soprano Marcy Stonikas as the Seconda Donna and mezzo-soprano Lindsey Anderson as Pippetto( the other walkout), the last two with only a few phrases between them.
Apart from recognizing the comic abilities of these Young Artists, to hear and appreciate the deeper and more complex facets of their talents we will have to wait until April when they perform Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue.