New York Theater Reviews
Gotham Chamber Opera presents Mozart's Il sogno di Scipione
If the Gotham Chamber Opera's 2001 production of Il sogno di Scipione by a sixteen-year-old Mozart marked the company's groundbreaking debut, then its revival for the 10th anniversary celebration can be seen as a reaffirming of what The New York Times called "the pre-eminent small opera company in New York". To commemorate the anniversary of that debut production, the Gotham Chamber Opera has reunited its original creative team of director Christopher Alden, scenic designer Andrew Cavanaugh Holland, costume designer Fabio Toblini, and lighting designer Allen Hahn. Neal Goren, the company's Founding Artistic Director is acting as conductor for the performance. In order to once again tame the virtuostic musicality of this opera, a phenomenal new cast of performers was hired that includes: Michele Angelini, Marie-Ève Munger, Susannah Biller, Rachel Willis-Sørenson, Arthur Espiritu, and Chad A Johnson.
This highly engaging one-act opera tells the tale of the Roman Emperor Scipio Africanus who awakens to find himself confronted with two beautiful goddesses in the "chamber of heaven." Heaven, as Holland imagines it, resembles what could be a studio apartment in Manhattan, maybe overlooking the park save for the fact that all that is visible outside the sole window is a backdrop of flowery blue stars.. Although sparsely decorated (a chair, a lamp, and a T.V), the room boasts a magical wardrobe a la C.S Lewis that functions as both a bottomless pit for fashion options and a portal for undead relatives to stop by, which as it turns out is a very important part of the opera (the latter, that is).
As for the goddesses, Scipio is in an unfortunate position. Both the goddess Fortune and the goddess Constancy appear before him and say he must choose one to guide him through life, knowing that the other will forsake him. Scipio requires time to make sense of all that this decision will mean and he eventually calls on the help and advice of his deceased ancestors who lead heroic and prosperous lives. Although what they have to say seems to indirectly help Scipio, in the end the decision needs to made by him alone and so the most they can offer is that his time on Earth is not yet finished, even though that life is nothing compared to life in heaven.
Scipio eventually decides, without fear or anger for what the other goddess might have in store for him. In a completely unexpected yet warmly welcomed and deeply moving end, Licenza appears and praises Scipio's choice yet explains that Scipio is merely a disguise, the real praise belongs to the productions patrons'. It’s the kind of ending that makes you realize every decision we make can be like Scipio's, waking up from a dream to face reality. Maybe the "chamber of heaven" is an apartment after all.