Opera review: Viva La Mamma

Comic staging of an obscure work is aimed at a new generation

Many potential opera fans are scared away by the idea that the productions are dry and boring, That doesn't have to be the case. The new production of Gaetano Donizetti's two-act comic opera Viva la mamma at the Estates Theatre takes an extremely whimsical approach to the material.

The English title is not as descriptive as some of its others. The original title is Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali, meaning The Conveniences and Inconveniences of the Theater. In Czech, the title is Poprask v opeře, or Uproar in the Opera.

A traveling amateur theater company is staging a particularly bad opera called Romulus and Ersilia, and the cast is filled with prima donnas who demand more lines and special treatment. The plot is not too far from the musical The Producers, with a bit of La Cage aux Folles for good measure.

The current production throws some additional wrenches into the works. The original venue is unavailable, and the troupe has to relocate to a school gymnasium. You would think that the athletes and singers would take turns. Not exactly. Gymnastics and rehearsals take place at the same time in the same space. Some athletes are even pressed into the chorus.

Director Radim Vizváry said he wanted to explore the intersection of opera and physical theater, which is where he has his background. He is co-founder of the theater company Tantehorse, which blends dance, mime and theater technique. He is also hoping to help make opera fun and more accessible for a new generation of viewers.

This opera was first performed in 1827. Surprisingly it includes a female baritone role. Some operas have “trouser roles” with women portraying men. The opposite is quite rare. Since the director and his crew haven't passed up a chance at humor yet, the cross-dressing Donna Agata Scanagalli does not get let off easy. But at the same time, baritone Roman Hoza gave the vocals his all.

The opera within the opera is one of those spear-and-toga affairs. It becomes a comedy of errors, with as much going on quietly in the background as there is center stage.

Absurd moments of ad-hoc puppetry pop up unexpectedly and there are several running visual jokes.

Viva La Mamma is not performed very often, and is one of Donizetti's more obscure works. It has several difficult passages for the chorus. Despite the anarchy on stage, the music always works out, creating a bit of a surprise.

The sets and costumes lend good support. The gymnasium is a fairly reasonable representation, at least until a bomb goes off, and the costumes are a campy blend of street clothes, glittery gowns and classic Roman-style uniforms. One highlight among the props is a swan on wheels.

The current production of Viva la mamma is treat for opera fans and also offers a lot of fun for people who have never gone before.

For a schedule, visit  www.narodni-divadlo.cz/en

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