OPERA NEWS - Viva la Mamma!
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Viva la Mamma!

Opéra de Lyon

Pelly’s staging of Viva la Mamma! In Lyon, with Naouri, Pietro di Bianco and Enric Martínez-Castignani
© Stofleth

LYON ENDED ITS SEASON with a joyous romp through Donizetti’s Viva la Mamma!,otherwise known as Le Convenienze ed Inconvenienze Teatrali, in a new production by Laurent Pelly, conducted by Lorenzo Viotti (seen June 22). This work was conceived in 1827 as a comic opera with spoken dialogue; recitatives and additional numbers were added for a revised production in Milan in 1831. This is a satire on the foibles of the chief players of the opera world, who rehearse a tragedy to chaotic comic ends. Add to this a stage mother played by a bass, and all the ingredients are present for a knockabout farce. 

This opera is tailor made for the talents of director Pelly, who is always at his best in operas that require precise comic timing; he wisely avoids too many gags and always looks for probing humanity within the comedy. Pelly chose to divide the one-act opera into two distinct parts. The first half was set in a decommissioned provincial opera house, which had been converted into a parking lot, complete with a nostalgic collection of Italian cars. Against this background the cast of competing egos was assembled like ghosts of a bygone era under the harassed control of impresario and composer. After the interval, the same opera house was discovered in its original glory, and the rehearsal of the opera began, undermined by the defection of half of the cast. Flouncy Mamma Agata, mother of the seconda donna, offers to take over a role herself as a swooning heroine, and Procolo, the husband of the prima donna, does the same as a preening hero. Because both Procolo and Agata lack musical and vocal talent, hilarious disharmony ensues. When the news comes at the last minute that the theater has gone bankrupt, the entire company flees to avoid creditors. 

Berlioz remarked after seeing the work that this slim, quickly written opera buffa steals from Rossini, and it is true that the sparkling patter of the ensembles could easily be mistaken for that composer’s work. The evening offers great opportunities for vocal display and comic playing. Cast as Daria, soprano Patrizia Ciofi enjoyed parodying the foibles of a prima donna assoluta, unwilling to share the limelight with any other singer. Ciofi’s total command of the bel canto style was evident, even if a few midrange notes got lost under Viotti’s rhythmically alert baton. 

The plum role is undoubtedly that of Mamma Agata, following in the tradition of the travesty nurse in Monteverdi’s Incoronazione di Poppea. Dressed in one of Pelly’s classic flowery dresses, Laurent Naouri was unexaggeratedly and wonderfully funny as his voice attempted to soar like a castrato or trumpet like an opera singer. This rather aggressive French mother was not so conventionally pushy as a real Italian stage mother would be for her daughter, Luiga Castragatti, the seconda donna, who she thinks should have more to sing. Given Clara Meloni’s lovely performance of Luiga’s aria, with amusing gawky movements, Agata’s ambitions for her daughter seemed justified. The haughty, posturing tenor, Guglielmo, was superbly sung and acted by Enea Scala. Baritone Charles Rice did a clever turn in the opera’s other great comic role, Procolo. Despite his delight in his over-the-top costume, Procolo’s musical incompetence brings down the opera, much to the distress of composer and impresario. Donizetti knew the world of opera all too well.  —Stephen J. Mudge

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