There truly was a blue moon glowing low, incandescent and fierce over the eastern sky on last Friday, July 31, for the debut evening of “Impresario Now!” a night of what the producers titled “90% Theater, 90% Musicale, Very Mozart.” We’ll get to the Mozart part, because how could we not? Mozart is a force of nature, and a most sumptuous one at that, but let us take a moment to wax eloquent about the moon, which itself had waxed, literally, and was indeed a blue one, although not blue, literally. A blue moon is rarely ever blue — unless it’s following volcanic eruptions or unless you’ve been hitting the sangria bowl on the night of its occurrence. It’s the technical term for a second full moon to arise in a single month, which is a special occurrence. The next one shall grace our skies on May 21, 2016.
Now to Mozart: How did he come to write “Impresario”? In the late 18th century, he’d moved from sleepy Salzburg to sprightly Vienna, which at the time was the Nashville of classical music. But while the arts thrived, politics were repressive under Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II. (Funny how despots and full-tilt art go together.) In Vienna, an evening of opera meant an opportunity to dazzle the big shots in town. Mozart, although knee-deep in “The Magic Flute,” agreed to compose an overture, two arias, and two ensembles around a libretto by Gottlieb Stephanie about backstage backstabbing. It was snide and rich with knowing winks and theater gossip. What could be more fun? Well, it was fun for the Holy Roman Emperor and his entourage of about 80, but meaningless to us today, with its three hours of in jokes about show biz in the fall of 1785.
Enter Wendy Taucher, director and choreographer, an impresario in her own right with her Dance Opera Theater of New York, and for many summers in residence at Featherstone Center for the Arts. Ms. Taucher has reimagined “Impresario” as a modern-day backstage backstabbing tale, and guess what? Nothing has changed! Ms. Taucher has trimmed — and rewritten with Nicole Aiossa — the libretto to an agreeable hour, and has added to Mozart’s original score four “tunes” from “beloved Italian oldies,” as she quips in the program, from “Le Nozze di Figaro” (“Voi che sapete,” anyone?), “Don Giovanni,” and “Così Fan Tutte.”
A call from Wendy Taucher rallies her oh-so-talented troops from as far away as Jackson, Miss., home of baritone James Martin who was seen last year at Featherstone as Papageno in “Flute,” as they call it in the business. Also on tap to play Sopranos on Steroids were the magnificent Maria Alu, Michele Trovato, the blondly innocent-looking but ferocious Lisa Williamson, and finally, mezzo-soprano Erica Person, with whom I’ve had the pleasure to ululate an aria or two. (Yes, really! Look it up online: my “How hard could it be to sing with opera stars?” in this newspaper, August 2014.)
A well-known actor with a Renaissance face who also sings superbly is Donavon Dietz in the role of an impresario gobsmacked by opera divas of all sexes, who would kill for top dollar (top groschen?) and top billing. Tenors Blake Friedman, Robert Mack, and baritone Justin Ryan were so sublime that when everyone sang in Mozart’s two ensembles, you could understand as if for the first time the lyrics from “Impresario”: “And we’ll make the world rejoice!”
Ms. Taucher and co-director, co-author Nicole Aiossa concocted such gems as, “How wonderful opera would be if there were no singers!” “One shouldn’t share the stage with livestock [at the suggestion of having goats in a scene]: tenors are difficult enough,” and “You know Isolde? You and the Soviet’s Men’s Choir.” Mostly it’s the squabbling sopranos, each of whom wants to be known as “prima assoluta,” who drive the producer nuts, as he suffers from what he diagnoses as “sopranoraisis.”
Music Director John Greer at the piano was key to an evening of flawless music. Arthur Oliver and Stina Sayre had great fun with the costumes that were half 18th century Vienna, half contemporary tomfoolery. At the gala dinner, hostess Judy Pisano Belushi won the Inspiration Award, presented by the Taucher group for all the help, love, and support she has bestowed on them over the years. On an outdoor flat screen, Ms. Pisano also received shout-outs from Dan Aykroyd and Senator Al Franken, who promised to use his time in office to push for a John Belushi stamp.
Finally, drunk with opera and love! love! love! from our arts community, we filed away from the tents under the enormous, pale-yellow blue moon. “Impresario Now!” played for two more nights of the past weekend, and will go on to Cape Cod, Nantucket, Key West, Boston, and New York City.
But we’ll still have “Amadeus.” I’ll leave you with these lines, reprinted in the program, the fabled reflection of Antonio Salieri in the play by Peter Shaffer about Mozart’s style of composition: “On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse. Bassoons and basset horns, like a rusty squeezebox. And then suddenly, high above it, an oboe. A single note, hanging there, unwavering. Until a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey. This was a music I’d never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing, it had me trembling. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.”
As I followed my friend Olive Tomlinson to her car, we saw working at her desk so late into the evening Featherstone Director Ann Smith. She stared out her window, untroubled by our interruption. She enables the magic in these amazing acres, and still has time to glance up and smile.