The Skylight's Rom Compera

Skylight’s THE RIVALS is so effortlessly enjoyable it’s easy to forget that it’s an opera

Sep. 17, 2011
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It’s the early 20th century. There’s a wealthy man posing as a starving artist to win the love of a wealthy girl who is certain that her father would not approve of their love. The wealthy man quickly comes into a situation where his father is arranging him to marry a woman…who ends up being the woman he’s been wooing this whole time in the role of a starving artist. It’s a fun little comic premise . . . with a little work, it could end up being updated and turned into a modern romantic comedy. The fact that it happens to also be an opera makes it that much more interesting. It’s a rom com. It’s an opera. It’s...a rom compera and it’s making its world premiere with the Skylight Opera as its season opener this season as the company presents The Rivals.

A prolific orchestral composer, Kirke Mechem has penned over 250 works. The music he’s put together here, feels very traditionally operatic. It’s not operatic in an epic, over-the-top sort of way. (This isn’t Wagner, which I gather is what a lot of people think of when they think opera.) It’s very light stuff the accompanies a very light comedy. It’s sung entirely in English. Stage Director Dorothy Danner and company have developed a staging for the package that feels very casual . . . the comedy feels kind of effortless. Though one never quite gets the impression that this isn’t an opera, the flow of the comedy makes it easy to almost forget your watching one.

The stage is filled with some rather clever comic talents. In the male lead, Christopher Burchett has the poise of a great comic actor with a flair for the kind of subtlety and intricacy that makes even the most ploddingly obvious bits of comedy feel fresh and interesting. Diane Lane carries herself with the proper amount of falsely assumed authority to make for a witty Mrs. Malaprop. Much of the rest of the cast has their moments of comic cleverness. The action is backed-up by a chorus of servants who all have quite a bit of talent themselves (David Flores? Nathan Wesselowski? Jill Anna Ponasik? The chorus alone would’ve made for an excellent comedy.)

With so much accessible comedy going on in a very immediate sense, The Rivals plays very much like an opera for people who don’t think they’d like opera. The music itself is very, very sound, but it can just as easily fade into the background for those in the audience in the mood for something light. Not that the music is ever allowed to completely dissolve. One of the more consistently funny bits ofcomedy involves Matthew DiBattista in the role of Jasper Vanderbilt—a southern gentleman played with the proper southern drawl. And yes, the man sings opera in a slight southern drawl as well . . . it’s genuinely funny comedy that never has a chance to get old . . .   

The set (designed by Lisa Schlenker) is a character in and of itself—very smartly designe. Two huge semi-cylinders serve as to different interiors and an exterior space when rotated in different ways. There’s a real wit and grace to it that compliments the overall production quite nicely.  


The Skylight Opera Theatre’s The Rivals runs through October 2nd at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre. For ticket reservations, call 414-291-7800. 



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