Opera Review: LA GAZETTA (Pacific Opera Project)

by Tony Frankel on July 7, 2018

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles

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Extra! Extra! Read all about it! — Unearthed Rossini opera about newspaper ad hits L.A. after sitting around doing practically nothing for 200 years.

Los Angeles — Detectives are trying to determine why one of the greatest opera composers of all time seemingly tossed his delightful but very very silly work La Gazzetta to the back pile shortly after it opened. Archaeologists know that the show — filled with Rossini’s patented patter and consummate coloratura — opened in Naples in 1816, not to be revived until 1828, after which it was promptly forgotten until this century when England’s Garsington Opera staged it in 2001, followed by a smattering of European productions.

Sources close to Signor Rossini told Stage and Cinema that it may have been a case of bad timing. La Gazzetta — which may have been meant for a Naples audiences only (the lead character sings in a Neapolitan dialect) — premiered between the extraordinarily popular Il barbiere di Siviglia and Otello and La Cenerentola (our foreign correspondents tell us that means Barber of SevilleOthello and Cinderella). Sure, Giuseppe Palomba’s libretto (based on Carlo Goldoni’s 1763 play, Il matrimonio per concorso) is a bit convoluted, but the prolific penner Rossini was so busy that he snatched some segments from other operas and inserted them into Gazzetta (it’s no secret that he borrowed from himself anyway).

It wasn’t until 2001 that a new critical edition by Philip Gossett and Fabrizio Scipioni was staged by England’s Garsington Opera. Then, a sprinkle of productions led to its 2013 U.S. premiere in Boston — adding a rediscovered Act I quintet to the rediscovered opera — and, now, the west coast premiere has been presented by Pacific Opera Project (POP). Let scholars duke it out as to whether or not it was a hit when first seen in 1816, it’s a hit now — thanks to director Josh Shaw’s hyper-imaginative campy updating to 1963 — and should be entering the repertoire of large opera companies soon.

Meet affected Neapolitan Don Pomponio (baritone and vaudevillian par excellence E. Scott Levin), who — while staying at the Aquino Hotel — is looking to find a husband for his daughter Lisetta (super-sweet soprano Rachel Policar). But the spoiled and obstinate Lisetta has her heart set on hotel owner Fillipo (boffo baritone Armando Contreras). It may seem antiquated now, but there was a time a few years ago that people put want-ads on wafer-thin cardboard printed with current events (a.k.a. a “newspaper”), so the stuck-up Storione takes out an announcement describing Lisetta’s attractions in the local rag, which rightfully upsets her.

Then the indifferent man-about-town Alberto shows up (the delightfully droll Kyle Patterson stopped the show more than once with his solid high lyric tenor voice). Thinking he has met the woman described in the ad, he instantly falls for Doralice (magnificent mezzo Molly Clementz), who is staying at the Aquino with her daddy, Anselmo (boffo buffo Phil Meyer).

All the action (masquerades, mistaken identities, and assorted plot twists) takes place in a colorful lobby that wraps around the audience on two sides, with a full bar with swiveling stools and registration desk on either end of the stage. Maggie Green’s costumes explode with riotous color, and Shaw’s sets are cruise ship meets Mad Men. While Brooke deRosa pared down the orchestrations, her terrific band — with synthesizer filling in for harpsichord — suited the proceedings well.

Shaw really gave his players a lot of movement — more than an entire season combined at LA Opera — and they pulled it off, even as the temperature soared to 114 degrees the night I was there closing weekend; what troupers! (The last time I saw POP, a transformer blew from a rainstorm knocking out the electricity — nothing stops this gang!)

This may be a lesser work from Rossini, but it’s a far cry better than the atonal “new” music passing for opera these days. (Put that in a newspaper.) Sure, it’s all fluff, but we had a blast. The run sold out quickly, so we weren’t alone in our opinion.

photos by Martha Benedict

La Gazzetta
Pacific Opera Project
The Highland Park Ebell Club, 131 S. Avenue 57
ends on July 7, 2018
for tickets, call 323.739.6122 or visit POP

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