It’s delightful sitting in the audience knowing you’re about to write a rave. You relax knowing you have plenty to write. Words will come easily. And in the case of this weekend’s UrbanArias performance, you put your pen down and roll your head back laughing.
John Musto’s Bastianello and William Bolcom’s Lucrezia, commissioned and first performed by New York Festival of Song, saw their first fully-staged professional productions in a double bill through UrbanArias at Artisphere on Friday night.
Five seasoned performers play multiple and varied roles. UrbanArias is known for their fresh, witty, and often crazy takes on opera. Everything is short, contemporary, and sung in English.
Bastianello is about a man so upset about wasted wine that he vows never to return to his new wife until he finds six individuals more foolish than she is. Lucrezia is about a scheme to get a married woman, whose husband desperately wants a son, into bed with an admirer.
I don’t want to give too much away, but Bastianello and Lucrezia are uproariously funny. Alan Paul deserves gigantic props for his inventive, whimsical, and often ridiculous (in a good way) staging. Despite the fact that Bastianello and Lucrezia were “commissioned to entertain,” they both carry serious messages beneath the laughs.
From arias about wasted wine, to “bad soup” jokes creeping unexpectedly into melancholy moments, everything is, in one word, absurd. Mark Campbell’s libretto is witty, tight, and silly – it is his distinct style that ties the operas together so well. The music by vocal composers Musto and Bolcom is accessible, tonal, and tuneful.
Alex Mansoori plays a well sung, but slightly strained role in Bastianello. He switches to a more comedic character role in Lucrezia, where his vocals shine. Keith Phares has a lovely and robust voice. He plays one of the more somber roles near the end of Bastianello, singing a lovely aria with piano duo David Hanlon and R. Timothy McReynolds, who play impressively and expressively together from opposite sides of the stage. A held high note from Phares in Lucrezia made the audience roar.
BASTIANELLO AND LUCREZIA
Closes June 15, 2014
Urban Arias at
1101 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201
1 hour, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Friday thru Sunday
Details and Tickets
Erin Sanzero has a firm presence and impressive upper register. Her deadpan deliveries were part of why I couldn’t stop laughing. Catherine Martin’s voice is warm, gorgeous as always (you may have seen her recently at Washington National Opera), and often jazzy – her role in Lucrezia provides her with endless opportunities to use her “mezzo sass” (spoiler alert: women like sex!)
Tom Corbeil sings and contrasts his two roles in Bastianello and Lucrezia well. He’s got a penchant for playing the snarky, smart villain.
Also worth noting are the costumes by Sydney Gallas. They often contribute to the comedy and match the tone of the pieces well. Martin’s dress in Bastianello is worn, overly whimsical, and sort of foolish. Seems fitting for her character.
Many faces in the audience were pinched in puzzled, but delighted expressions of utter confusion. Bastianello and Lucrezia are weird pieces.
I can’t remember the last time I saw opera more refreshing, hilarious, and interesting. Oh yeah, it was the last time I saw an UrbanArias production.
Brennan Jones . DCMetroTheaterArts