MARQUEE - A night at the opera

For the second year, Walla Walla Community College will host a production from Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program


The mother lives!

This mamma, however, is no ordinary woman. An astute theatergoer may realize that, beneath the makeup, permed hair and feisty maternal demeanor, the dame is Daniel Scofield in drag. Once Scofield opens his mouth, the secret is out of the windbag; Scofield is a male baritone opera singer playing a very boisterous mamma.

Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program will present Gaetano Donizetti's "Viva la Mamma" at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the Walla Walla Community College Performing Arts Auditorium. The show is currently sold out, although a limited number of tickets may become available for those on the waiting list. There may be additional seats on the night of the show if ticketholders do not show up. To be put on the waiting list or for more information, please call Denise Marr at 527-4275.

"Viva la Mamma" is a humorous caricature of an opera company in rehearsal for the somber opera "Romolo ed Ersilia." The audience, while watching this play-within-a-play, gets a backstage peak into the eccentric and disastrous characters in the troupe.

The arrogant prima donna refuses to rehearse and will not sing with her rival, Luigia, the seconda donna. Luigia's aggressive mother, Mamma Agata, pushes for her daughter to sing a larger role.

"The baritone that plays the Mamma is in drag, and we have to hope that his wig stays on," said Justina Schwartz, education events manager of the Seattle Opera. "He definitely takes the longest to get ready, since he has to put on the whole outfit and the makeup and the hair."

Music director Brian Garman said, "Any of us who have ever worked an opera or been around an opera can identify all of these characters: the domineering stage mother, the prima donna who always insists on getting her way, the husband of the prima donna who's always around making sure everyone caters to her every whim. We all know everyone of these people, and we know them by name."

Mamma Agata steps in to replace a defecting singer. During a duet with the German tenor, however, Agata's untrained voice frustrates the tenor, who quits abruptly and angrily. Procolo, the prima donna's fawning husband, swoops in to fill his empty shoes, as the maestro and poet hasten to rewrite the production with the new cast members.

"This is kind of like the ‘Noises Off' of opera," explained Schwartz, likening "Viva la Mamma" to the 1982 play, a slapstick farce that pokes fun at the backstage drama of a traveling theater troupe. "It's taking the process of writing and putting on an opera and making fun of it. The people in the show don't think they're making fun of it, but from the audience perspective, it's a spoof of all of the wrong things that can go on."

Stage director Jeffrey Marc Buchman said "Viva la Mamma" is "a hilarious look at an opera company that just never stood a chance of getting its production off the ground."

The Seattle Opera's Young Artists Program, now in its 13th year, trains young professional opera singers in a 21-week curriculum that culminates in two full productions. "Viva la Mamma," which opened on Nov. 4, is the first production for this year's young artists.

"It's one of the top young opera training programs," Schwartz said. "These are all singers who have graduated from conservatories and universities and are ready to make that bridge to the main houses around the country or around the world."

"[‘Viva la Mamma'] promises to make you laugh out loud and really have a great time at the opera," Buchman said.


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