Beautifully sung, hilariously acted, perfectly directed, brilliantly composed (John Musto for Bastianello and William Bolcom for Lucrezio), cleverly written (both by Mark Campbell)- these are just some of the ways to describe Urban Arias’ production of Bastianello & Lucrezia. Stage Directed by Alan Paul (This year’s Helen Hayes Award winner for directing Shakespeare Theatre Company’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), and Musically Directed by Robert Wood, the two form a perfect team and present a most enjoyable evening of comic, modern opera. And what a treat to hear two pianos playing at the same time by two incredible musicians: R. Timothy McReynolds and David Hanlon. It was glorious!
Before I go on, I will openly admit that I had never reviewed an opera before. When I arrived at the Artisphere I was excited, but most of all, a little nervous being an Opera newbie. After enjoying and laughing myself silly, I’ll certainly be back to see more of Urban Arias, and I’ve grown very curious about the opera world as a whole.
Urban Arias has indeed made opera accessible.
A black box theatre hosts the performances of Lucrezia & Bastianello. The seats are arranged in a full thrust, and Director Alan Paul does a tremendous job of ensuring that no audience member loses out on any of the countless hilarious moments in either of the 40-minute pieces. The sets, designed by Andrew Cohen, are strikingly simple and effective. The only piece that remains for both shows is a balcony, upstage.
The costumes by Sydney Gallas are distinctive, detailed, colorful, and perfectly ridiculous. The wigs, especially, add to the comedy of the operas. The props by Timothy Jones are superb. One piece (worth the price of admission in-and-of itself), is the “Confession On Wheels,” a hilarious scene from Lucrezia. I don’t want to give it away, but I must confess that the audience and I were roaring with laughter.
Bastianello, set in rural Italy in 1700, is a modern retelling of an Italian folktale. After the wedding of Luciano (Bass-baritone Tom Corbeil) and Amadora (Mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin), Amadora is asked to go down to the cellar and retrieve some wine. The aria that follows is one that both tickles the funny bone and tugs at the heartstrings. Amadora begins, alone, center stage behind a barrel of wine, exclaiming that this is the “Happiest moment of my life.” The smile fades to comic despair, as she looks forward and sees the monotonous world she has now committed herself to, where one day she’ll “just wake up dead.” Martin delivers angelic vocals, perfect facial expressions, spot-on comic timing, and yet just enough real sadness to be relatable. Soon joined by Luciano’s mother and father, (Soprano Erin Sanzero and Baritone Keith Phares, respectively) this is one of the most funny and touching moments in the show, and heavenly sung by this group of exceptional singers.
During this lament, though, Amadora, and the rest of the family have let all the wine run out. Luciano swears that he will not return until he has found six others more foolish than his family- as “nothing is worse than wasted wine.” He does find the fools, but not in the manner you might expect.
Lucrezia is set sometime around 1900 in Argentina. When Lorenzo (Tenor Alex Mansoori) falls head-over-heels for Lucrezia (Catherine Martin), his friend Chucho (Tom Corbeil) comes up with a plan to get the two in bed together. Is the plan devious? “Of course it’s devious!” says Chucho. The plan involves Lorenzo tricking Lucrezia’s mother (Erin Sanzero) and her husband (Keith Phares) through several elaborate ruses, including impersonating a German doctor, a priest, and a mariachi player. And for the frustrated Lucrecia, who proclaims “I like sex!,” she learns quickly that a priest can also fill other needs besides spiritual ones.
In Lucrezia, Mansoori shows us a tremendous range – serving as a narrator in Bastianello, Mansoori comes back as a character actor in Lucrezia that seems to delight in his role, and certainly has tremendous fun on stage. Rarely does a moment pass where Mansoori graces the stage in Lucrezia where the audience isn’t, at the very least, giggling at his antics.
Who knew opera could be so much fun? What great singers and comedians! Don’t miss Bastianello and Lucrezia. It’s an experience I will never forget!
Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.
Bastianello and Lucrezia plays tonight June 7th, Friday, June 13th, Saturday, June 14th at 8 PM and Sunday, June 15th at 2 pm at Urban Arias performing at The Artisphere – 1101 Wilson Boulevard, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase them online.
Alan Paul on Directing ‘Bastianello’ and ‘Lucrezia at Urban Arias.
Urban Arias website.
Review of ‘She, After’ at UrbanArias at Artisphere by Justin Schneider.
Composer Daniel Felsenfeld, Director Beth Greenberg, and Principle Artist Emily Pulley on UrbanArias’ ‘She, After.’
Review of ‘Paul’s Case’ at UrbanArias by Terry Byrne.
UrbanArias Presents ‘Blind Dates’ including ‘Craigslistlieder’ at IOTA on August 5th at 7 PM by Robert Wood.