As Jon Stewart and the rest of the team at ‘The Daily Show’ will attest, it takes an incredible amount of skill to cover the everyday with humor. Opera does not always conjure images of knee-slapping laughter – even with the recent flood of Così fan tutte performances. The singers from Arlington-based UrbanArias with composer Tom Cipullo and conductor Robert Wood taking turns at the piano, however, had the INTERSECTIONS Festival audience in stitches throughout the night.
Performing two sets of Cipullo’s songs and alternating with their own Opera Improv, the evening had a swift pace that never let the audience disengage. It was a pleasure to see the Cipullo sets performed from memory which allowed the artists to be much more open and engaged. The audience warmed up to the humor over the first set, “Some Things That Drive Us Crazy.” Beginning with some knowing giggles during Love II: Snoring Quartet featuring Melissa Wimbish (soprano), Alizon Reggioli (soprano), Joshua Baumgardner (tenor), and Andrew Adelsberger (bass-baritone) the merriment grew during Reggioli’s hilarious ode to a ‘fluid Italian suede’ handbag in Love III: The Pocketbook. Finally, Adelsberger brought the belly laughs in his performance of Neighbors: Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House. Adelsberger’s contempt for the neighbor’s dog gradually increased over the quotes from Beethoven’s 9th in the piano – played with nuance by Cipullo – leading to his comical interpretation of the dog’s imaginary solo in the symphony. The second half of the program entitled “Time passing” offered a sentimental balance to the humor of the first. During “The Garden”, Reggioli caught me by surprise with an emotionally raw moment in which she delicately covered her mouth and shook her head ever so slightly that made the text about an imagined meeting with the poet’s mother come alive.
The mix of established song repertoire and opera improv was a good choice for this 9:30PM performance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Opera improv is a perfect bridge between pop culture and high culture. It’s an interactive element that allows audiences to choose their own opera adventure. As audience members shouted out suggestions like Obama, Wonder Woman, on the beach, ‘it’s not a tumor’, and ‘getting cold feet’ they were more invested in seeing their story lines played out by the unflappable singers. Big kudos to the singers for really making the improv rules work for them. They made excellent work of saying “yes”, avoiding scene killers, and telling a story with significant musical help from Robert Wood at the piano. UrbanArias has a great thing going with opera improv and would benefit from offering it regularly.
There is one more opportunity to see this fun show on Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. Don’t miss it!