A New Comic Opera about a dysfunctional opera company trying to produce an opera
Written By David Chesky
World Premiere - March 15th & 16th at The Brooklyn Playhouse, NY
Composer and Librettist
Director, set and costume designer
Cast (in alphabetical order by last name)
Tina Boosahda, Jay Chacon, Jonathan Christopher, Daniel Foltz-Morrison, Allison Gish, Lauren Gismondi, Christina Kay, Rachel Music, Tim Powers, Victoria Rodriques, Jessa Salemo, Sam Strickland
La Farranuccci, a new comic opera. Music & Libreto by Grammy-nominated composer David Chesky, directed by Shelly Watson, conducted by Anthony Aibel and produced by Victoria Rodriguez.
Featuring a stellar cast of thirteen performers and an orchestra of fifteen musicians, La Farranucciis a comedic opera about opera, La Farranucci takes the industry to task.
“I wanted to look at opera from behind the scenes and show all the things that can go wrong” says creator Chesky. “The audience gets to watch a rehearsal of an opera company putting on an opera. From the stage to the board of directors. La Farranucci is a mixture of some very crazy characters that find themselves on the same stage.” La Farranucci through the eyes of a Hippie composer, an opera singer, and a rich donor, the opera tackles how catering to a few rich donors stifles creativity and authenticity in opera. Where will it all end up?
"The contemporary opera, La Farranucci follows the inhabitants of an opera house in the throes of a perilous production on and off stage," says director Shelly Watson. "They struggle with the future of opera, humanity and politics in our current nonsensical society. Juxtaposing a strong classical form with a neo opera buffa style, La Farranucci explores the truths of artistry vs. administration, policies vs. pursuance of the American dream, time honored traditions vs. the digital age; and challenges the audience to ask: do money and power really trump Art and artists?"
Darn those traditional opera companies and their insistence on remounting the same tired standard repertoire! This frustration is the springboard for a gleeful assault on the establishment by composer-librettist provocateur David Chesky, whose comic meta-opera La Farranucci received two performances at the Brooklyn Playhouse (seen opening night, March 15). The piece thrusts us right into the action: a dress rehearsal of the opera-within-the-opera, also called “La Farranucci.” Chesky is witheringly accurate as a musical parodist: the leading couple mindlessly intone the phrase “Don Farranucci” back and forth to each other over a chugging C major accompaniment, with Giovanni-esque octave leaps and occasionally interspersed runs on “la-la-la-la-la” for good measure. It’s all truly giggleinducing.
The proceedings are repeatedly interrupted by a Hippie Composer named Chuck (the very funny Luke Van Meveren), presumably a stand-in for Chesky himself, who begs the Director (Jay Chacon) and Manager (Tim Powers) to listen to his own original opera. He is continually rebuffed, although we do eventually get to hear a few minutes of Chuck’s opera, which is Debussy-influenced and quite lovely. Desperate to raise money to mount his own production, Chuck resorts first to filming porn, then to selling firearms to people on the no-fly list, and finally to founding his own fake religion. There’s something to offend nearly everyone along the way, including a martial number mocking the gun rights crowd, plenty of profanity, a touch of gay BDSM, and a truly obscene costume for a character named Octopussy.
Chesky, however, deftly preempts anyone who might take offense. As soon as the cheerfully prudish Daphne Blueberry (Christina Kay) reveals a single bare breast (she was hired to star in Chuck’s erotic movie, but claims that she misread the ad as seeking a “neurotic” actress), a flock of self righteous protesters storms the stage, complete with “Lock him up” and “MAGA” signs, insisting that Chuck be prosecuted on pornography charges. The irony is rich here.
Chuck eventually decides that to stay relevant in the digital age, the art of the future will have to involve live video games. On cue, three gamers with goggles and consoles walk on and start commandeering tiny drones that fly around the auditorium, a spectacular effect that easily proved Chesky’s point about how readily distracted we all are by shiny objects. Other highlights included a loud mishap with percussion equipment resulting in a broken violin, and the distraught violinist (Camellia Hartman) shouting, “Fuck this opera!” before storming out of the pit. After Chuck is out of jail and contemplating ways to make money, he sings, “I would like to have a bookstore.” “Not a good idea,” he is admonished. “This is Texas.”
All in all, La Farranucci is consistently and pointedly funny. Director Shelly Watson, who also designed the costumes, enthusiastically embraced the outrageous elements of the piece, maximizing the burlesque sensibility. It was also very well performed. The ten excellent, versatile, and thoroughly game cast members adapted enthusiastically to all the shenanigans. As the opera patron Janet Grump, who acquired her fortune by marrying a wealthy elderly patron she met working in a strip club, Victoria Rodriguez (also the actual producer) showed great musical and physical flair in a seduction number performed for the newly rich Chuck: “There’s nothing that gets me more excited than Schoenberg, Bartok and Boulez,” sings Janet, gyrating all over the composer in her stripper garb. As Giuseppe, the baritone who portrays Farranucci, Jonathan Christopher was amusingly vain onstage and off, as was Jessa Salerno, playing opposite him. Both sang quite well amid the parody. Clarity of diction among the entire cast was outstanding. Tina Boosahda had a nifty moment as the Understudy after Salerno’s leading diva stalks off the stage. “It’s happening!” she shrieks, stepping seamlessly into the role, all aglow for her “star” moment.
Peeking out discreetly amid the musical send-ups are hints of Chesky’s appealingly original musical voice—an off-kilter, Stravinsky influenced harmonic language that is the perfect conveyance for his freewheeling hijinks. Several numbers are quite skillfully woven, including a great duet for Chuck the composer and his friend Brian (Sam Strickland) about their proposed new religion; a demented waltz for the Director and Manager lamenting the bankrupt state of their opera house; and a trio for three women aggressively trying to seduce Giuseppe. Anthony Aibel showed impressive clarity and control with the ace fourteen-piece orchestra.
Surely now, more than ever, we need a vibrant tradition of contemporary American comic opera. On the evidence of La Farranucci and his previous entry, The Pig, The Farmer, and the Artist, which played the NYC Fringe Festival in 2010, Chesky is our leading practitioner of the form.