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Review: LA CORONA AND IL PARNASO CONFUSO at Methodist Church In Camarillo

Drive-In Opera for Pandemic Time

Review: LA CORONA AND IL PARNASO CONFUSO at Methodist Church In Camarillo

On Saturday evening November 21, 2020, Pacific Opera Project (POP) presented two rare, one-act operas by Christof Willibald Gluck, La Corona and Il Parnaso Confuso to a drive-in audience of 90 cars in the parking lot of the United Methodist Church on Anacapa Drive in Camarillo, CA. Normally, POP presents opera in Los Angeles, but live, drive-in performances are not currently permitted there.

Executive and Artistic Director Josh Shaw's discovery of an opera called La Corona in this time of pandemic led him to another of Gluck's one act comedies, Il Parnaso Confuso. Both were written for royal celebrations and were to be sung by the same four children of the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa. Unfortunately, La Corona was never performed during Gluck's lifetime. In 1987, it received its world premiere at the London Festival observance of the bicentenary of Gluck's death.

Il Parnaso Confuso was composed in 1765 for the four princesses to sing at Habsburg Archduke Joseph's wedding. In its libretto, Apollo asks three ill-prepared muses, Euterpe (Music), Erato (Lyric Poetry), and Melpomene (Tragedy), to perform on short notice at the Emperor's wedding. In Josh Shaw's reimagined production, the muses are a 1980s band and Apollo, no longer a god atop Mount Parnassus, is a wedding planner

Government rules had to be followed in order to have a live performance in this era of pandemic. For the duration of rehearsal and performance time, artists had to agree to the following: to travel only between rehearsal and home, to avoid all contacts with people outside of their households, and to contact POP immediately if they experienced any symptoms related to COVID, or had contact with a COVID-positive person.

Utilizing a three level stage, designer Josh Shaw and costumer Maggie Green set La Corona in ancient Greece. Artists wore loose flowing garments. The second opera, Il Parnaso Confuso, however, was updated to the 1980s and the singers wore bright colored rock-and-roll outfits that denoted their status as band members. Stage decor included two electric guitars and a golden saxophone. I particularly loved the short skirt with leg warmers and wondered who had kept the outfit this long.

The double bill featured sopranos Jessica Sandidge, Tiffany Ho, and Audrey Yoder, as well as mezzo-soprano Meagan Martin in both operas.

Composed for performance in 18th century, these operatic compositions are in the style of Handel and Vivaldi rather than Verdi and Puccini. The arias are da capo with constantly repeated phrases but the music is perfectly marvelous. It's melodic, complex, and it demands the utmost technical proficiency from singers and instrumentalists.

Mezzo-soprano Meagan Martin as Asteria in La Corona and Erato in Parnaso was the most outstanding singer of the evening. Her coloratura was usually precise and her characterizations were as close to natural as possible in this era of social distancing. As Atalanta and later as Apollo, soprano Jessica Sandige offered silvery high notes, decorated runs, and a dramatic middle range that made her characters come to life.

Agile-voiced Tiffany Ho was a versatile musician who sang the masculine role, Meleagro, in the first opera and the muse, Melpomene, in the second with great energy and clear diction. Audrey Yoder was a dramatically engaging singing actress who showed great vocal flexibility while singing Climene in Corona and Euterpe in Parnaso.

Conductor Kyle Naig played the recitatives and led the small, distanced, shielded orchestra from the keyboard. He drew a thoughtful rendition of the score from his orchestra. The ensemble had a bright sound and showed a good understanding of eighteenth century operatic textures and phrasing. Carson Gilmore directed Corona, while Josh Shaw directed and designed Parnaso. Both operas were sung in Italian with Shaw's projected English supertitles in the style of each production. The composite sound of this performance as heard on FM radio was top notch.

I hope more companies will think of using drive-in mode. Older people make up a considerable percentage of the opera going public. Currently, they should not sit in a close communal setting. Watching a live performance from their own cars and listening on the FM radio with the windows shut provides optimum safety. With almost no possibility of contagion from a crowd, patrons can enjoy an evening out at the opera.

Pacific Opera Project's drive-in performances of Puccini's La Bohème can be seen on December 10, 12, and 13 at the United Methodist Church parking lot on Anacapa Drive in Camarillo, CA.

Photo of Jessica Sandidge by Martha Benedict for Pacific Opera Project.

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