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Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00

The Impresario (Der Schauspieldirektor)

Written by Sheila R. Schultz

Midwest Lyric Opera

Through 4/22/2007
Reviewed by Sheila Schultz

Mention The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, or The Magic Flute and many will immediately recognize these as Mozart operas. Mention The Impresario and you're likely to receive a blank stare, yet this, too is a Mozart opera. It's a one-act singspiel, i.e., a comic opera with spoken dialogue instead of accompanied recitative. 

It's natural to assume it's an early work from the child prodigy. In fact, The Impresario, K486 was composed alongside The Marriage of Figaro, K492. Of historical note, Mozart's first opera, Apollo and Hyacinthus, K38 was composed at the age of 12.

Mozart's greatest comic operas are flimsy in plot by today's standards and The Impresario's plot is flimsier still. It is the composer's musical genius which spun gold out of such material. The delightful overture of this singspiel predicts we are in for a treat. Under the direction of Peggy Eggers, it is a melodic treat.

The titular character of The Impresario is one Mr. Cash (tenor Paul Blecha), who attempts to cajole two rival sopranos into appearing together in an upcoming opera. Both women possess outsized egos and crave solo spotlight. The temperamental Madame Silverpeal (Amy Bell) appears first for her audition. She is less than pleased when Madame Goldentrill (Laura Billings) interrupts the proceedings and flirts outrageously with Cash during her try-out. Predictably, the two exhibit mutual antagonism. After alternating solos, one soprano endeavoring to outdo the other, the two ultimately join Cash in a light-hearted contrapuntal trio.  In the end, harmony is established as the sopranos agree to appear together setting aside petty differences for the sake of art. Who will receive top billing? It's anyone's guess.

The closing trio was the highlight for me. It was charming and flawless. I did have issues with the acting in general.  In the interests of full disclosure, my areas of expertise are musical theatre and straight drama, with limited exposure to opera. I understand singing is paramount in opera. Still, opera is a form of theatre and as such requires dramatic training and direction.  Billings and Bell conveyed their characters' mutual animosity with perpetual scowls. There was little variety or subtly in their expression. Similarly, Blecha seemed permanently flustered by the dueling prima donnas. There were no microphones, so it was difficult to hear the dialogue. 

Why dwell on these flaws? Because it distracts the viewer and bursts the delicate illusion.  I understand the limited resources available, but the company needs to recognize and work around such limitations as they did more successfully in the first half of the program, which consisted of arias from assorted Mozart operas performed by other members of the company: Peggy Eggers, Dr. Leon Burke and Pam Triplett.

Dr. Burke's selection from The Magic Flute was particularly impressive. He delivered the cleanest, most professional recital of the day. Instead of presenting the arias in a straightforward manner, they were incorporated into a skit featuring Mr. Cash auditioning singers.  That was a mistake. The unnecessary and barely audible dialogue detracted from otherwise entertaining musical performances.  In my opinion, an entire program of arias unencumbered by plot or storyline would be most effective and enjoyable given the aforementioned difficulties.

Midwest Lyric Opera Company presented the program in English. The Impresario (Der Schauspieldirektor) was first performed in 1786 for Emperor Joseph II and his court in Vienna. The original German libretto by Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger derives much of its humor from wordplay often lost in translation. Still, the comic parody of self-important divas was apparent and relevant as ever in the 21st century.  The singers were accompanied by solo piano, enthusiastically performed by Mary Zubert, dubbed Madame Fleetfingers.

The last performance of The Impresario was April 22, 2007 at All Saints Catholic Church in University City.  Midwest Lyric Opera Company plans to reprise this program in the summer, though no date has been set.  Check back on their website for details or call 314-838-3285
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