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.
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Libretto by Johann Andreas Schachtner
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.