Teen Mozart, joyously sung
By JAMES JORDEN
Posted: 10:51 PM, April 12, 2012
Some days you can feel like a hero just getting out of bed in the morning.
That’s the message of Gotham Chamber Opera’s delightful production of “Il Sogno di Scipione,” which opened Wednesday.
In this offbeat piece — written by a 15-year-old Mozart — the Roman general Scipio Africanus dreams of a confrontation between the goddesses Fortuna and Constanza. Which value best serves a hero, they ask him: luck or determination?
There’s hardly any plot in this 1772 work, just elaborate arias requiring nonstop vocal acrobatics from all the singers — one reason it’s rarely performed. But for Gotham’s 10th-anniversary season, artistic director Neal Goren has done the seemingly impossible, grooming a company of young performers who can toss off this daunting music while cavorting through director Christopher Alden’s lively staging.
In this playful update, Scipione is a 21st-century desk jockey, and the goddesses a pair of one-night stands who wake up in the bedroom of his sparsely furnished bachelor pad.
Tenor Michele Angelini bookended the show with rousing bravura numbers depicting Scipione’s determination. In his closing aria, he juggled trills and high C’s while tying a necktie — a task many guys find challenging even without singing.
Nearly as impressive were the tenors singing the parts of Scipione’s noble ancestors, both disabled in combat. Not only did Arthur Espiritu sing Publio’s dazzling aria on crutches, but Chad A. Johnson offered an expressive performance of the wheelchair-bound paraplegic, Emilio.
As the goddess Constanza, Marie-Eve Munger maintained an attractive melodic line through the fireworks, while Susannah Biller won an ovation as the multitasking bad girl Fortuna, warbling coloratura while mixing cocktails.
At the end of the show, an incidental character delivered an aria meant to flatter Mozart’s patron, but repurposed it here to hail Gotham’s steadfast fans. “No need to study ancient history to learn about courage,” sang soprano Rachel Willis Sorensen. “The real heroes I can see right in front of me.”