Between consumption, poison, madness, exposure, stabbing, and suffocation, the divas of classic opera never really had much of a chance. Carmen, Mimi, Desdemona, and others finally get the chance to vent about their unfortunate ends through The In Series’ gleeful production of Fatal Song, a melodious sendup of the raw deals handed to opera divas by their “sadistic” composers.
The melodrama permeating the opera world makes it a ripe target for parody, and playwright Kathleen Cahill feasts on the overwrought emotion laced throughout the works of Donizetti, Puccini, Bizet, and their composer brethren. Much like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Fatal Song invites opera fans and neophytes into the inner monologues of each diva as they barrel toward their preordained tragic ends.
The production unfolds on Greg Stephens’ compact set, which conveys a cabaret floating out of time and space through an ambiguous mixture of period furniture and decoration. Stefan Johnson’s economical lighting design brings opera-scale ambience to the cozy Source Theater, allowing director Rick Davis to cycle his cast through a variety of settings with zero set changes.
Within this intimate setting, a gathering of divas comically discuss the feeling of imminent doom that always seems to accompany their arias. Cahill throws her actresses right into the comic business with some genuinely funny jokes about consumption (the preferred dramatic end for the discerning diva). Bubbly soprano Carrie Anne Winter, as Susannafrom Marriage of Figaro, tries to inject some levity with a warm recitative. Resonant baritone Brody DelBeccaro then joins Winter in a lively duet as Count Almaviva. Yet the two can’t lift the spirits of the collection of coughing, manic women.
After Winter’s brief interjection of sunshine, the sopranos belt and warble their way through some of opera’s most famous tragic songs, blending wisecracks and powerhouse vocals with ease. Daniele Lorio channels Lucia Di Lammermoor with a hilarious rictus of doom and navigates Lucia’s haunting aria “Regnava del Silencio” with fine vibrato and range. She later transitions to a riotous, stiff-jointed take on the automaton Olympia from Tales of Hoffman, carrying her famously difficult aria with aplomb.
FATAL SONG: The Great Opera Murders
Closes September 21, 2014
In Series at
1835 14th Street, NW
1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $20 – $42
Details and Tickets
Annie Gill delivers a bell-clear rendition of Mimi’s opening aria from La Boheme, before transitioning to a laughably insecure version of Pamina from The Magic Flute.
Heather Bingham gives a powerhouse take on Violetta’s aria “Sempre Libera”, punctuating the song about everyday delights with tight control and hair-raising high notes. Adrienne Ivey exhibits her mellifluous tone in a crowd-pleasing “Habanera” from Carmen, all the while comically providing translation help to her non-Francophone cast mates. Winter returns to bring the house down as Mozart’s Queen of the Night, promising death and revenge in her piercing soprano.
Jason Lee also lends his pleasing tenor and comic chops to a fourth-wall breaking turn as Des Grieux from Massenet’s Manon.
The show’s only weakness emerges when Cahill’s script falls into the “music biopic trap”, wherein a cavalcade of hits are shoehorned into a tenuous storyline. Cahill deserves credit for blending so many characters, storylines, and languages into a single comic narrative, but the random appearances and disappearances often hamstring the flow of action and cause confusion as to who is who onstage. Still, it’s not such a big deal if you forget plot and just let the performances wash over you.
Fatal Song mounts a winning, accessible production by using comedy to broaden the audience for opera’s most famous works. Dedicated fans can enjoy a self-parodying trip down memory lane, while those new to the genre can digest each classic work in bite-sized pieces laced with riotous commentary. Who knew opera could be this much fun?
Fatal Song by Kathleen Cahill . Directed by Rick Davis . Produced by In Series . Reviewed by Ben Demers.
FATAL SONG: The Great Opera Murders
Ben Demers . DCTheatreScene a melodious sendup of the raw deals handed to opera divas by their “sadistic” composers.
Terry Ponick . DigitalNews Their opera-centric banter is Ms. Cahill’s wry, witty, and sometimes uproariously funny way of setting the scene
Robert Catlin . MDTheatreGuide a lot of fun.
Jessica Vaughan . DCMetroTheaterArts If you are an opera buff, the many winks and nods to the excesses of the genre will delight…