Il Sogno di Scipione
Gotham Chamber Opera
(At Gerald W. Lynch Theater, April 11-21)
Mozart has always been the classical poster boy for youth culture, and never more so than now that we have had the good luck to hear Il Sogno di Scipione once again. Written when he was 15, the prodigious Mozart already had six operas under his belt when he composed Il Sogno for one of his patrons, who died before it could be performed. As was often the custom it was quickly repurposed (and rededicated) to another, but only three of its sections were heard in that long-ago performance. Il Sogno languished until 1979 (God only knows why), and remained unstaged in America until the Gotham Chamber Opera first presented itself and the opera’s American premiere in 2001.
So there you have it: a prodigy’s tribute to his patrons—the perfect choice for Gotham’s tenth-anniversary revival, a Patron’s Gala. And if the patrons had a lucky evening as a reward for their support, they and the company mutually deserved it, in spades. Rarely do companies, directors or conductors have the chance to revisit a landmark production, much less one in which the decade has enabled them to attract modern patrons to support their work. And it is both inventive and varied: I’ve seen Il Gato con Botas (directed by Moises Kaufman), and, most notably, Nico Muhly‘s Dark Sisters (last season’s smash, directed by Rebecca Taichman).
In Il Sogno, the fiendish difficulty of Mozart’s youthful arias and recitatives is simply the outpouring of his take-no-prisoners genius and vigor. He would calm down later in life as he adapted the less-is-more approach to the ravishing melodies that still reduce us to tears, but not yet in 1771/2 . Questions must be asked: How, one wonders, could a 15-year-old pull it off? He could, and did, and the singers are right there with him every step of the way. Where on earth can directors and conductors find the three sopranos and three tenors who sing most of the arias and recitatives, most of them in non-stop roulades at the outer edges of their register? They must not only trill their way through the demanding score, constantly upping the musical ante as the opera moves from peak to peak but, in Christopher Alden’s production, also remain in equally constant motion.
Fortunately, Gotham has figured it out: Scipione (Michele Angelini) looks and acts the part of a young libertine who must choose between Fortuna (Susannah Biller) and Constancy (Marie-Ève Munger). All three spend much of their time in partial undress (this is, after all, an update), but triumph over the demands of score and staging, repeatedly drawing lusty and hard-earned applause for their skill. In the end, Scipione does the right thing; he chooses Constancy, suits up, and walks through a wall to his future. In an epilogue, Licenza (sung by the magnetic and luminous Rachel Willis Sorenson), assures us he has made an excellent choice and, true to 18th-century convention, praises Mozart’s patron. If you haven’t already made plans to see the remaining performances, you can order your tickets now, and learn more about the opera, the production, and the company itself. gotham
Since Gotham has achieved success with this revival, perhaps they would consider bringing back last November’s world premiere, Muhly’s Dark Sisters? I, for one, would welcome a chance to see it again.