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Opera Takes to the Waters


Jason Budd as Don Pistacchio  (Chris McKenzie photo)

Decamping from the Tsai Theater because Boston University revised its policies for the space, a beloved company earns the nickname Boston Area Midsummer Opera in honor of its remove to the town of waters. Thus, “Love Italian Style” comprising Donizetti’s Il Campanello and Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, will tread water (or the boards) at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Mosesian Theater on July 20th, 22nd, and 24th.

Though MBTA access, resonant acoustics, an orchestra pit, fly and wings spaces are reported AWOL from its Watertown Arsenal muster, the Mosesian nevertheless possesses certain charms: among them are ample nearby free parking, restaurants and cafes, clear projection of sound and great sightlines.

Music Director Susan Davenny Wyner’s notes on the operas follow.

Our “Love Italian Style” captures two very different sides of Italian character and theatrical tradition—one reaching back to long used prototypes of comedic farce, the other searching to break new ground with a lyrical idyll.

When Donizetti arrived in Naples in 1836, he was touched by the plight of actors and singers. The royal theaters had been shut down. All was in disarray. The players were hungry and dispirited, small theater owners were scrambling to survive. Thus Campanello was born. In just over a week or two Donizetti penned “a little farce” and presented it as a gift to the cast and intendant of the tiny Teatro Nuovo. Even on short notice the public swarmed and critics expressed amazement at Donizetti’s generosity and skill in authoring both words and music.

Pulling straight from commedia del arte Donizetti gave his artists ample room to flaunt their skills. The dialogue was spoken, guises and disguises came on and off, and much to the delight of the vaudeville audience, the composer set his pompous old apothecary using a perfect, spot on, Neapolitan dialect.

A year later he came back to Campanello, tweaking for new performers and performances, setting the spoken dialogue to music, adding duets, changing ensemble music, even translating the apothecary’s text out of dialect and into Italian so the piece could be performed in the Royal theaters.  Thanks to the sleuthing work of historians and musicologists we now have access to these versions, to Donizetti’s own letters and to his contemporaries’ reactions—and what we are performing is culled from them.  As a side note, I find it moving to know that Donizetti arrived in Naples desperately grieving and in pain, having just lost both parents and a baby daughter. Writing this little piece he said pulled him back toward life.

Mascagni’s ‘L’amico Fritz” couldn’t be more different, and what’s intriguing is that the young Mascagni deliberately set out to surprise and turn tables on everyone’s expectations. His first opera—the one so well known today Cavalleria rusticana—had taken the world by storm. A story of passion, betrayal, fear, superstition and murder provoked by violent sexual jealousy in a rural Sicilian society, it was a potboiler of melodrama and intensity.

For his next opera, he said, “I wanted to take a different path. I want a simple libretto, one with almost no action.” Selecting Erckmann-Chatrain’s 1864 novel L’ami Fritz he worked with four different librettists to pare it down to a simple essence, and indeed in his lyrical setting, with its glimpses of Alsatian folk songs, time seems to stand still. The music gets dramatic only when Fritz and Suzel enter into wrenching moments of unrequited love. The piece had enormous success at its premiere in 1891 and was played all over Europe including performances by Gustav Mahler in Hamburg. It has gone out of fashion now and is rarely performed. Our version trims some of the grand opera moments and makes the orchestration more intimate with the wish to capture the delicate balance between melodrama and drama, vocal glow and instrumental luster.

Tenor Mathew Vickers as Fritz Korbus (2nd from right) and bass Jason Budd as Rabbi David (far right), shake hands in L’amico Fritz.(Chris McKenzie photo)

“Love Italian Style” July 20, 22, & 24, 2016

Donizetti’s Il Campanello
Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz
Arsenal Center for the Arts, Mosesian Theater, Watertown



Pre-opera talk with Richard Dyer one hour before each show

Antonio Ocamp-Guzman, stage director
Susan Davenny Wyner, conductor

David Kravitz, Enrico
Meredith Hansen, Serafina/Suzel
Jason Budd Don, Pistacchio/Rabbi David
Matthew Vickers, Fritz Kobus

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