This past weekend, the Opera Theatre of Yale College brought a hot pink velour tracksuit and a modern setting to 19th century Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti’s opera “Viva la mamma.”
The production, performed in Harkness Auditorium at the School of Medicine, was directed by Raphaël Laden-Guindon ’19 and Kohl Weisman ’19, with Opera Theatre of Yale College Music Director Ian Niederhoffer ’19 leading the orchestra. “Viva la mamma” is also known by the title “Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali,” which roughly translates to “The Conventions and Inconveniences of the Stage.”
“The opera was written by Donizetti around the 1830s, but the characters were so vivid when we were reading through it [that] we set it in modern times,” Weisman said. “I think it worked well in a contemporary setting. The characters are just these universal, awful people.”
In the opera, a fictional opera company struggles to create and stage a production. The characters include caricatures of typical members of an opera company, such as a self-centered lead female singer, or prima donna. The second female singer, the seconda donna, receives fewer solos, so her protective mother — played by a tracksuited Weisman — gets involved, causing mayhem among the singers and in the company.
By the end of the opera, after many obstacles, the fictional company runs out of money and cancels the production.
Lisl Wangermann ’21, who played the role of the seconda donna, said that “Viva la mamma” shows an audience “just how relatable opera can be,” with its engaging and ubiquitous characters. Wangermann said she believes these characters translated smoothly and effectively into this production’s modern staging.
“Donizetti wrote a ridiculous opera, so we were really able to just lean into it,” Weisman said. “In some ways, we were able to do whatever we wanted with it.”
Laden-Guindon echoed Weisman’s sentiments, adding that the directors could edit portions of the opera that might have been humorous in 1830s Italy but would not resonate as strongly with today’s audiences.
The directors said the opera’s ensemble cast in particular appealed to Opera Theatre of Yale College. Instead of featuring only a few lead roles and a larger chorus, “Viva la mamma” provides more principal roles with nearly equal importance.
The directors also said the opera allows the singers to implement the smooth and flowing “bel canto” style, which contrasts with the modern style of Opera Theatre of Yale College’s 2017 mainstage production of an opera by 20th-century Czech composer Leoš Janáček. The directors noted that they have to keep their singers’ vocal ranges in mind when making selections, and “Viva la mamma” is well-suited to the voice parts of this year’s singers.
The group performed the opera in the original Italian, with supertitles translated by Laden-Guindon, who noted that the supertitles offered an opportunity to articulate the humor of the production. Though the singers performed in Italian, the directors said that they sometimes rehearsed the text in English to be sure the performers understood the words they were singing.
James Nydam ’19, who played the role of Procolo, the prima donna’s husband, noted that though singing in Italian posed a challenge, the singers received helpful guidance from Janna Baty, a member of the opera faculty at the Yale School of Music.
Niederhoffer described the music for the opera as “in the service of the comedy.” He said that the “upbeat and energetic” music served as the foundation for the comedy presented on the stage.
In addition to the spring mainstage performance, Opera Theatre of Yale College presents other works throughout the year, including a shorter opera production in the fall.
Julia Carabatsos | firstname.lastname@example.org