Katy Gentry Hutchings
SHOW: The Soapranos
GROUP: Poor Richard’s Opera
ATTENDED: Fri., Sept. 13, 7:30p.m., Trinity Center for Urban Life
CLOSES: Sat., September 21
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: "Soap opera meets live opera in two comical one-acts, Holst's The Wandering Scholar and Moore's Gallantry. Sung in English with a few commercial breaks, singers bring to life the guilty pleasures of daytime TV."
WE THINK: The concept is clever enough: a play written like a soap opera and performed like a classical opera. It’s like a musical Days of Our Lives, and it’s funny because it’s sung dramatically! Do you get it yet? A twist on that standard television trope! Ha-ha! But that concept needs to hold up for the full 75 minutes of the show, and for non-fans of either genre, the charm does not extend past the initial few lines.
The Soapranos is made up of two shorter shows: The Wandering Scholar, originally set in the thirteenth-century and updated to present-day, and Gallantry, written in 1958 and set in a hospital a la Grey’s Anatomy. The Wandering Scholar’s Alison reads Cosmo and acts bored around her bumbling husband, then flings her house slippers aside and dons heels and a cleavage-baring top when the salacious priest comes around to get it on with her in the attic. Drama ensues, of course, when a scorned and overly educated beggar spills the beans of the tryst with her spouse. Gallantry seems to have been the originator of the soap-opera-opera idea, with its “commercial breaks” featuring an announcer for wax and – what else? – soap. Meanwhile, a doctor declares his love for his nurse, who is engaged to the man who they happen to be operating on in surgery that day, miscommunications abound, etc. etc.
The Soapranos is not bad. At some points it is very funny, such as when Nurse Lola’s fiancé (TJ Capobiano) wakes up on the table alone and confused after the nurse and doctor have had a vicious fight above his sleeping body. Michael D. Hogue is excellent as the namesake of The Wandering Scholar, a hungry young student who regrets majoring in something as intangible as Classics. (Jobless Liberal Arts grads, unite!) The cast is clearly experienced in vocal performance and does not let the poor acoustics of the high-ceilinged church get in the way of sounding gorgeous. But the attempt at satire doesn’t go far enough in its ridiculousness and instead comes off as awkward. Such a show might be better suited for a comedic web short that opera and/or soap opera fans could chuckle at, post on their Facebook walls for their fellow theatre-minded friends, and then forget about.
If either vignette of The Soapranos had extended longer than its prescribed thirty minutes, the necessity of straining to tell what words the singers were singing mixed with the lack of regular scene shift (because every good soap opera has about ten different story lines going on at once) would have gotten very old to uninitiated audience members. It also doesn’t help that opera singers can’t move around much while hitting those high notes; the one chase scene was slow and stilted. This show would be best appreciated by those who already love opera and are seeking a lighthearted version of an often stuffy theme.
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