Mozart’s Zaide at the wolftrap “Barns”: A little Dante and a little Gilliam.

Mozart’s Unfinished opera Zaide played at the Barns last night in an electric neon production that was part Dante and part pink Floyd. Psychedelic sets and lighting blended with Mozart’s arias (which he had composed at the time of his death but hadn’t written a libretto, and was supposed to be a singspeil (a spoken play with dialog and songs), set in a harem, about the love between a christian slave and a harem girl).

The Barns Production (by Director James Marvel, Gary Thor Wedow conducting a small competent symphony orchestra, lighting design : Robert H. Grimes) is a high on tricks effort which blends the unconventional with the traditional in a summer show in two feasible acts and makes for a satisfying short operetta.

Hana Park , Soprano

Among the gimmicks the production incorporates are : the Spoken dialog is in english interspersed by Mozart’s german arias, Terry Gilliam sets with multiple television screens are backdrop for the “upper chambers” of the harem, a sci-fi sense to the costume design( Mattie Ullrich)with dante like crustacean harem guards , and a post apocalyptic allazim dressed like a bird-shaman.

 The unfinished opera has two acts and the audience gets to choose from three possible  endings by voting at the intermission. Modern flourishes  give the opera a vaguely sci-fi television feel ( the “alarm ” being raised over an intercom in the harem- who said an arab harem cannot be set in a science fiction present-future!)


Johann Andreas Schachtner’s libretto is pretty faithfully adhered to,  and Hana park plays Zaide with a consummate  passion and a professionally polished  singing voice.

Paul Appleby’s underplayed , sweet toned alto soprano Gomatz acompanies adequately and the supporting cast of baritones and bass vocalists (billing, peak and shumel playing the management at the harem) add some sheer pleasure and fun to the summer festivities.

The operetta as a medium for summer fun

Which brings us to some meditations on the operetta form and its place in modern stagecraft. Whether performed as a play or as a mini opera, the operetta in two acts , with a few solid opening arias and an orchestral overture(they used the 25th symphony’s first movement as the orchestral overture insead of the zaide overture) is the ideal summer concert in the barn vehicle, not being too long to exhaust the festival audience, and being just long enough to give people an exposure to the depths of such popular arias as ruhe sanft ( Gently rest, my dearest love, sleep until your happiness awakes;here, I will give you my portrait,see how kindly it smiles at you.) or the jolly ich bin so bos (the birdcatcher I am)  set the stage for a comic romp through the harem’s various depredations, while the weightier
Treulos schluchzet Philomene ( the birdcage song in the second act) or the final quartet Freundin stille deine Tränen add a contemplative weight to a short operetta, which translates very well across age groups and demographics, and can be safely experimented with without losing its essential classic flavor.

  The production needs to be as playful as the set and lighting design was in this one, though, and not try to take on and resolve complex problems of slavery in Arabian harems or the 18th century german opera scene (which doubtless the unfinished work was, King Leopold wanted Mozart to work as an employee of his court and the young  composer was doubtless more interested in romancing the “slave” women of Leopold’s court). A story set in the harem is by definition a romp. make it a guilty one but keep it like a Mozart aria simple in phrasing and grand in its conceptual design, even as fingers dance on their tippy toes over the black and white.

The Barns at Wolf Trap – New Production
Sung in German with supertitles

Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Johann Andreas Schachtner
Composed 1779-80


Zaide – Hana Park
Gomatz – Paul Appleby
Allazim – Daniel Billings
Sultan Soliman – Nathaniel Peake
Osmin – Michael Sumuel


Conductor – Gary Thor Wedow
Director – James Marvel
Scenic Design – Erhard Rom
Costume Design – Mattie Ullrich
Lighting Design – Robert H. Grimes
Wigs & Makeup – Elsen Associates

One performance left Saturday , June 19 2010 at 7:30 PM, with a pre opera talk an hour before and a reception hosted by club 66 as an encore event.

tickets at


About rameshram

Name : Ramesh Ram... Email Address : (don't even ask) Blog: (never updated) Height/ Weight: 6'1 175 (varies between 160 and 185) Color of hair/ eyes black/ brown Bald? Nope (not yet, but give me 20 years.) Interests: Film (Bollywood/international indie), Travel (Germany/Japan/Central America/Sout/east/west Asia/ Northern Africa), Gizmo geek, Clubbing... What do I like in a good movie?: Women, Music, Auters, Special effects, Style. What do I like in a bad movie?: Women, Music, Auters, Special effects, Style. Favorite Critic: International: Bazin Domestic: J Hobermann Indian : me. (noone else comes close ...India or here..) Best quality: Humility. Outspokenness. Warmth Worst quality: Intolerence Favorite color : Yellow Black Blue Favorite Perfume : men: Grey Flannel(Geoffery Beene) Women: Celine dion: Obsession Boxers / briefs : Boxers Did I inhale: And how! Author: Marquiz, Rushdie, Murakami, Jong Last Book: The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton, Catherine A. Liszt Music : Patricia Kass, Alejandro Sanz,Nina Simone, Amir Diab Sports person: What am I usually in : White briefs and tees. Chianti or Burgandy: Chianti Food: French Japanese(street/fast food). Saw and liked: No Country for old men, Lust Caution Saw and disliked: Nishabd Didnt see: Aaja Nach le. Call me: Write me first.
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7 Responses to Mozart’s Zaide at the wolftrap “Barns”: A little Dante and a little Gilliam.

  1. Karigai says:

    When he is not busy slapping (political, other) commentators around and criticizing crafters of careless “coughs and spurts” cinema, what does Herr rameshram do? Allow me to answer that too obvious a question: Cry over a seven-year-old saying his multiplication tables of course! Before moving on to decidedly adult activities like this playful meditation on the operetta form and its place in modern stagecraft, right? You are chock full of surprises mister! 🙂

    They (The Bang gang of ‘Puzzles Page’ fame as opposed to the Wolf gang here) already told me that Vienna was city du jour, but who knew there was a Vienna in Virginia? Maybe the Hermetic law of correspondence is wonderfully valid… the microcosm reflecting the macrocosm and all that (with this little city Vienna reflecting (all that once was) in the Big City Vienna?

    All I know is “I will give you my portrait, see how kindly it smiles at you” is (swapping eras for a second here) certainly *not* Mona Lisa speaking to Louis XIV! 😀

  2. rameshram says:

    Thats a sweet thing to say karigai, thanks!

  3. Karigai says:

    Oh btw, love the dual imagery thing you got going with your closing line: “..even as fingers dance on their tippy toes over the black and white”… Mozart as Grand Master, Mozart as pianist nonpareil.

    Unrelated note: Seen the latest Buick Regal banner ads doing their rounds on the web? Love the car’s tagline: “Its arrival IS a departure.”

  4. rameshram says:

    ha defeated you! you missed one or two other levels of meaning. 🙂

    • Karigai says:

      Naan indha vilayaatukku varla pa. Engeyaavadhu deep-a dig panni tholachu, vilayaattu vibareedhamaayi, apparom “aiyyayo kaapathungo, vambula maatti vidaraa” nu ellam alara… enakku theyvayaa? 😀

      Having said that, let me venture just a couple more G-rated ones: Mozart-the-stringpuller’s able fingers making tippy-toeing katputlis dance directly on your eyeballs, followed by your Mozart-fingers dancing on their tippy toes over black and white laptop keys, “composing” this post…

      • Karigai says:

        And oh not to forget the thing that perhaps started it all — Mozart’s fingers dancing on their tippy toes scribbling rows and rows of black squiggly notations across reams and reams of white…

        Reminds me of an ad I saw promoting the KQED public television: A composer sits at his piano, scratching up notes then playing
        them, only to quickle crumple up the pieces of paper and toss in the waste basket… few minutes (in ad time; in reality, probably few hours) of this later, he’s ready to give up and stares out the window in desperation, when muse arrives… in the form of birds sitting on the power lines outside in just the pattern that makes for perfect music, I guess. His expressions transform
        as he proceeds to furiously play the piano, reading the “notations” right off the power wires — priceless! 🙂

  5. rameshram says:

    nothing so farfetched.

    mozart the composer tippytoeing around issues of black and white and the mc escher image of black and white stairs and finger tippy toes.

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