The words, “In the Not-So-Distant Future, Still in Lockdown” float eerily across one’s screen at the opening of the Enigma Chamber Opera’s clever take on Mozart’s 1786 one-act Impresario (or Der Schauspieldirektor), K. 486. Considered a comic Singspiel, the work enjoyed advance billing before its ink was even dry, because Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II, organized a contest between Mozart and Salieri. Eighty-or-so guests at the Orangerie of the Schönbrunn Palace would be seeing the back-to-back one-acters. Mozart’s debuted to a polite but modest reception. The audience far preferred Salieri’s Prima la Musica e Poi le Parole (First the Music, Then the Words). And aside from its overture, the Impresario has never enjoyed primacy in the two-plus centuries since (for one thing, later that year, Mozart wrote The Marriage of Figaro).
Enigma Chamber Opera “ZOOMed and teleported” hysterically with Simon Robson as Sir Nick Hall, the Impresario, who initiates an au courant discouraged and out-of-work soliloquy as pianist Maja Tremiszewka plays the overture. His self-deprecatory ennui pervades the show. Soon soprano Natasha Goldentrill (Katrina Galka) preens and tries to master keeping herself “out there” for online audience while the other soprano Angela Silverpeal (Debra Selig) tends to her “inner self.” Concomitantly, the roué-cum-financier Judas Angel (Matthew DiBattista) readies himself to find singers, and “Boo” Bluff (David Kravitz) focuses on diversionary baking—all during the overture. Thus, we are hit over the head with a contemporary theme focusing on the struggles artists and musicians are presently facing during the pandemic. Yet, it is cathartic—and, I found, better on a second ZOOMing of the production. The shtick here: a put on about a performance. London-based Robson superglues the pieces together without singing, , pianist Tremiszewka evokes the score brilliantly. DiBattista delivers his character “Boo” with over-the-top hype, and Galka and Selig enjoy a convincing and melodious catfight without ever emerging from their respective ZOOM-boxes. DiBattista appeals as a fatuous but mildly endearing, if gauche, rake. Costumes by Rebecca Shannon Butler enhance the event.
At one point, “Boo” Bluff’s statement, “We highlight the process rather than the product,” borders on arch-pedantic, if engagingly. The Singspiel DOES come off, but “by default,” according to the rewrite. And the “process becomes the product.” Oh, you’ll see…
Galka’s far-ranging soprano plays Goldentrill’s diva with gusto and grace; her first aria is gloriously funny. Selig’s rich voice and clarion diction with humor rewards the listener.
The product runs 70 minutes, about 25 minutes longer than typical mountings. Luckily, you can put your laptop on pause if you need a break. You may need it, as there are really only two complete arias and two ensembles (or three, depending on how you count), even if melodious. Peter Torpey imaginatively engineered visual interaction among the ZOOMing cast, and Kirsten Cairns provided inventive direction.
Confession—I had never seen a performance of this minor Mozart confection, but now I have become YouTube addicted to viewing the various ways it can be put together. Period piece renditions can be soporific, even with the scant, though lovely, music. A well-sung and-played S&M imagining from Israel HERE provides, well, a distinct spin with chains. But in this Boston Covid-19 version—bored and worried musicians and writers decide to put it on with everyone in his or her own Zoom rectangle, providing some hilarious touches, though probably not for every taste.
The young Enigma Chamber Opera company aims to create new interpretations of well-known operatic works. Their explorations lend a fresh eye to repertoire. The Impresario runs HERE through February 22nd; it provides a certain something of a pandemic purging, even considering the in-your-face webcam sound and lighting.