DAVID KWIATKOWSKI – STAFF WRITER
What if opera singers got to choose the material they sung and had control over the roles they played? What if the composers got to choose the arias and create an organic array of genre stylings like jazz, rock ‘n’ roll and trap music?
Chautauqua Opera Company has brought itself to the challenge in their company-produced opera As the Così Crumbles: A Company-Developed Piece which premieres at 4 p.m. Wednesday, July 28 at the Performance Pavilion on Pratt.
The title is a play off Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which follows two sisters’ boyfriends trying to trick them into cheating. Artistic and General Director of Chautauqua Opera Steven Osgood believes while Così fan tutte has glorious music, the underlying narrative the piece has is troubling.
“If you get into the sexual politics of it … this is a problematic piece. If you want to really look at it, it can start to crumble a little bit,” Osgood said. “In a way, the conversations that we’ve been having with our company are about their personal dissatisfactions with the opera industry, as artists and as singers.”
Osgood said conversations among Chautauqua Opera ranged from the European hegemony of the repertoire or an artist’s lack of control over the types of characters they are able to play with their voice type.
“It could be about the challenges of being a young artist, of being told what to do not having your own voice,” Osgood said. “It could be that they love all these different kinds of music and they never get to live in that music in their chosen profession. Those were the big conversations that we were having. Around that we started to explore what it would be like if they could toss off some roles that they’re not particularly interested in.”
The opera starts with a rehearsal meant for six singers, but only five of them have shown up, so the other Young Artists are forced to rearrange the arias and other musical numbers in the sixth singer’s absence.
“It’s an exhibit of what singers are able to do,” Osgood said. “They’re so smart. They’re so knowledgeable, they can actually step in and save the day. They do it every day, so this is an absurd presentation of those superpowers. As the show goes, each of the musical numbers starts to get more and more exploded.”
Yazid Gray, one of the Young Artists in the show, found the collaboration that went into this piece creatively fulfilling.
“I actually really like this type of process, and it’s really collaborative between all parties,” Gray said. “I really feel like I’m able to share my thoughts and have my voice heard as much as possible, and also be able to bounce ideas off of each other. They’ll ask us what we think about dialogue when we think about certain words and certain parts of the music that we might want to change. It’s allowing me as a singer to really be in the room where the art is created. We’d never really been part of the writing process. We’re just given the music and we sing it. I really feel like I’m part of the creative team.”
Composer Fellow Jasmine Barnes has appreciated the process of composing this piece with the other composers and Guest Director Chauncey Packer, as well as the other Young Artists. She agrees this level of control over opera is a freeing rarity that gives the chance for the innate humanity of opera to shine through.
“I think a lot of times, we as artists have a tendency to want to have things exactly the way we think of it in our head,” Barnes said. “When it’s a collaborative process, it is not always going to go that way. … You don’t want to step over anyone else’s ideas or their thoughts about something, so sitting back and listening to how we are processing it together is really a beautiful thing.”