Chicago Opera Theater Presents Donizetti Double Bill IL PIGMALIONE & RITA Review – LOL-laced Arias

Editor’s Note: For a more in-depth look at this Donizetti double bill, read the Picture this Post Preview – “Chicago Opera Theater IL PIGMALIONE & RITA Preview – Interview with Amy Hutchison

Reminding of how Barnum and Bailey’s clowns somehow came out of a small door like battalion after battalion in an army,a troupe of clowns (Adrian Danzig, Director of Clowning) help Chicago Opera Theater (COT) bring a Donizetti double bill to life. Dressed as look-alikes for Beppe (tenor Javier Abreu), the long suffering husband of Rita (soprano Angela Mortellaro) they juggle, slide from the balcony on flimsy seeming ropes, do peek a boo type gags galore, and then somersault and fly.

Wait! that wasn’t a clown—it was magnetic Javier Abreu!

From pratfalls to pie in face, Director Amy Hutchison pulls out every trick in a comic’s handbook. Even Henny Youngman’s most famous one-liner finds its way into this performance, delivered by baritone Keith Phares who plays Rita’s first husband previously thought to have died at sea.

Every once in a while there is a self-referential jab asking how we could be making light of domestic violence, the subject matter of RITA. That we are laughing in the periphery of these painful #me-too-and-related times, speaks to COT’s genius in finding new ways to make opera on any subject accessible to all. Nothing formulaic here—just a heavy dose of whimsy that transports where perhaps Donizetti’s music doesn’t, even with these obviously talented voices giving it their all. How interesting that in a preview interview Director Amy Hutchison notes her interest in some day directing children’s theater. This writer thinks of RITA as her homerun audition.

Read this Picture this Post Preview here – “Chicago Opera Theater IL PIGMALIONE & RITA Preview – Interview with Amy Hutchison

RITA was the second in this double bill, after IL PIGMALIONE. Here, the set design by William Boles to create artist Pigmalione’s atelier is a co-star. There, we see and hear Abreu sing Pigmalione’s tortured longing for his muse for more than half an hour. It’s a chance for you to admire Abreu’s voice to the max.

Chicago Opera Theater IL PIGMALIONE
IL PIGMALIONE is mainly a chance to admire the voice and stage presence of tenor Javier Abreu

That said, for this reviewer, IL PIGMALIONE was more a somewhat long tease to imagine the stagecraft that would bring Pigmalione’s love interest to life. When she (Galatea, performed by Angela Mortellaro) does become human, as we expect, it IS music we want to hear. Brief, but so sweet, Pigmalione and Galateo’s duet is as magical as her coming to life.

Donizetti's Duets and Trios Transport

In RITA as well, above and beyond the comic antics that are the bedrock of COT’s production, it is the duets and trios that truly make your heart sing along and remember other Donizetti greats. Abreu, Mortellaro, and Phares each have voices with power to enthrall—it’s the score that seems to be lacking.

Dare one say that COT in recent years has also given us many a chance to learn why certain operas are not performed that often? In this writer’s opinion, that is more true than not.

Next Chicago Opera Theater Sounds Most Promising!

However, next COT season may be a strategic break from that tradition. It includes: Tchaikovsky’s IOLANTA, a work that has been performed by the Met starring Anna Netrebko in the title role; SCARLET IBIS, a newer puppet rich chamber opera that has been staged in New York; and MOBY-DICK, an opera presentation of one of THE classics in American literature that has been staged in major opera houses from Dallas to San Francisco and beyond.

For more information and to purchase season tickets visit the Chicago Opera Theater website.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Cast:

Angela Montellaro (Galatea/Rita);Javier Abreu (Pigmalione/Beppe);Keith Phares (Gasparo); Patrick Shelton, Lain Stait, Alexandra Martinez-Turano, Sean Garratt, Alexander Knapp (Clowns); Heather Corwin (Woman on Vespa) 

Director:  Amy Hutchison  and Clowning Director:  Adrian Danzig

Conductor:  Francesco Milioto

Crew:

William Boles (Scenic Design); Shanna Foster (Costume Design); Becky Scott (Wig and Makeup Design); Ted Nazarowski (Lighting Design); John Boesche (Projection Design); Anya Plotkin (Stage Manager); Yasuko Oura (Rehearsal Pianist); Dylan Evans (Assistant Director); Donald Claxon (Asst Stage Manager); Alaina Bartkowiak (Title Operator); Rick Combs (Technical Director); David Lee Bradke (Lighting Director/Asst. Lighting Designer); Margaret Goddard-Knopp (Props Supervisor); Beanda Winstead (Wardrobe Supervisor)

Orchestra:

Grace Hong and Joseph Claude (Oboe); Scott Metlicka and Laura Hamm (Flute); Karl Rzasa and Matt Hogan (Bassoon); Gene Collerd and Dileep Gangoli (Clarinet); Pasquale Laurino, Patirck Rafferty, Lauren Cless, John Xia, Cristina Buciu, Elizabeth Huffman, Erick Pidluski, Mark Agnor and Carol Yampolsky (Violin); Claudia Lasareff-Mironoff, Ai Melby and Elizabeth Coffman (Viola); Jeremy Attanaseo (Bass); Steven Replogle and Sharon Jones (French Horn); Ross Beacraft and Matt Comerford (Trumpet); Michael Folker (Timpani)

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