La Gazetta

Michael Van Duzer Reviews - Theater

Gioachino Rossini wrote 39  operas by the time he was 40. Perhaps exhausted by his compositional pace, the composer retired at the peak of his powers and popularity. His undisputed masterpiece, The Barber of Seville has remained a staple in the opera house over the intervening centuries, but few of his other operas come anywhere near Barber’s acclaim.

A true curiosity in Rossini’s oeuvre is La Gazzetta (The Newspaper), an opera-buffo written in between Barber and his second most popular comic opera, La Cenerentola (Cinderella). For some reason, the opera was essentially forgotten for well over a century.

Always on the quest for something original, the intrepid Pacific Opera Project (POP) is presenting a production of La Gazzetta. They state that it’s the second production in the US, and I have no reason to doubt their claim. This will certainly be a new Rossini opera to most audiences.

Of course, even a new Rossini opera will have some familiar bits. Because of the speed at which he had to compose, Rossini was an inveterate borrower of his own tunes. La Gazzetta’s overture would be repurposed for Cenerentola, and melodies from Barber make an occasional appearance in the Gazzetta score. The majority of the music is original, however,  and overflowing with Rossini’s unique brand of fizzy fun.

The convoluted storyline contains a few light satiric jabs, but is mostly a patently ridiculous affair designed for maximum laughs. Don Pomponio (E. Scott Levin) is a Neopolitan businessman who arrives in Paris to find a husband for his daughter, Lisetta (Rachel Policar). Deciding that he’ll manage this with modern efficiency, Pomponio places an ad for potential husbands in the newspaper. Anselmo (Phil Meyer) is also husband-hunting for his daughter Doralice ( Molly Clementz).

The libretto’s Commedia roots dictate that both daughters are strong-willed, crafty, and determined to choose their own bridegrooms. This results in numerous misunderstandings, mistaken identities, and even the appearance of an incongruously combative group of Quakers. (Don’t ask.)

Artistic Director Josh Shaw updates the action to the early 1960’s which suits the material nicely. Shaw also designed the interestingly L-shaped stage which offers just enough scenery to suggest a posh hotel lobby and bar. More importantly, these locations offer the principals numerous playgrounds. Shaw has also adapted the libretto with an effective use of humorous anachronisms in his supertitles.

Shaw’s cast all throw themselves into the comic anarchy with abandon. Levin is a POP veteran, and his hilariously pompous Pomponio owns the stage whenever he enters. Kyle Patterson’s Alberto, one of the daughter-approved suitors, reveals a  sweet and supple bel canto tenor along with a keen sense of fun. Policar convinces as a spoiled rich girl and handles Rossini’s stratospheric vocal challenges with ease.

Opera lovers will thrill to see this rarity on stage, but general audiences will find much to charm them in POP’s delightful La Gazzetta. And, for those who can’t make it to Highland Park, the company will livestream the final performance on their FaceBook page.

Ebell Club of Highland Park    June 28 – July 7, 2018