Sheaves of music start flying and the upper octaves get higher and louder during an open opera audition. Vanity and rivalry turn into a feline fight-fest when two sopranos vie to get the best part. Mozart’s The Impresario, a comedy with music in one act, is an entertaining mélange of Viennese classical opera with a musical theater edge and wonderful showcase for the outstanding musical talent of the students of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music of The Catholic University of America.
Brian Rice’s chamber ensemble arrangement preserves the rigor and complexity of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s original composition while Stage Director James Hampton cleverly blends his new English dialogue with the old German libretto. The result is a perfectly professional student production. I could envision every one of these gifted performers on the world stages of major opera companies around the world. They are that good.
There is a rich history behind Mozart’s “play with music” that goes back to the late 1700s. Fast-paced and energetic, this modern-day Mozart’s The Impresario brilliantly replaces Mozart’s orchestral overture, trio, and finale with a new chamber ensemble, incorporating German arias like “O Isis und Osiris” from Die Zauberflote (The Magic Flute) and “Bester Jungling!” from Der Schauspieldirektor , and Italian arias such as “Madamina” from Don Giovanni, and “Deh vieni, non tardar” from Le nozze di Figaro with comic fun as dialogue.
Joseph Kaz gives a solid performance in the title role as Ripley Washington III, the peripatetic director of the Chamber Opera of Washington while Peter Kohanski ably portrays Edison Blunt, his somewhat dim-witted but likable assistant director. Piano accompanist par excellance, Dr. Nicholas Catravas, is onstage for the play’s entirety as the Principal Coach at the Chamber Opera of Washington.
Egos clash and tempers flare as the pretentious Cynthia Hohenton-Smythe (Emily Risley), celeb opera star married to a billionaire, goes head-on for center stage against the brashly perky Viv Inalto (Molly Allen), a rising soprano with a seeming fetish for taking selfies and building her Twitter fandom. Baritone Arthur Stallone (Andrew Smith) and Tenor Michael Raffone (Daniel Noone) add powerful male energies that balance the scintillating coloratura as they passionately deliver dramatic arias in hopes of getting into the opera. Rounding out the cast, Gabby Arencibia, Crossley Hawn, and Christa Nuno lend great acting and agile vocals in supporting roles as students from an area university.
Under the baton of Conductor Joshua Bavaro, the chamber ensemble’s instrumentalists are superb. Nicholas Rao (Violin I), Cole Thomas (Violin II), Dan Zhang (Viola), Bridget Hone (Cello), Kathryn Freeman (Flute), and Matthew Brown (Clarinet) add nuance to the composition while supporting the vocals without overpowering the performers.
The simple, stark black and white set design’s (James Hampton, Kristin Reavey, and Mark Wujcik) chaise lounges, Baby Grand and entry-exit center stage French doors create a cosmopolitan air expected at an opera audition. I wondered why, however, two large pictures of fleur-de-lised cows hung in the background on each side of the sophisticated set. On second glance, the Chamber Opera of Washington acronymed spells COW artfully capturing the delightfully humorous essence of Mozart’s The Impresario.
The human voice reverberates through the senses and has a unique appeal that makes opera such a rarified experience. Each and every member of the ensemble of Mozart’s The Impresario has an operatic voice full of clarity, range, strength, power, and verve that is amazing for student performers. Their stunning voices were truly breathtaking and left me feeling a bit light-headed just from listening to the sheer beauty of sound. Cleverly classic and divaliciously fun, Mozart’s The Impresario is a musical treat for opera lovers and musical theater buffs alike.
Running Time: One hour, with no intermission.
The Impresario plays through November 22, 2015 at The Catholic University performing in the Ward Recital Hall – 3801 Harewood Road NE, in Washington DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 319-4000, or purchase them online.