Italian opera is not for everyone. Many people lack the patience for the sluggish stories and action in the more traditional style, not to mention it’s all in Italian. However, this opera is anything but traditional.
Director James Marvel made the show incredibly accessible to non-native speakers and gives the comedy in the comedic opera a distinctly modern taste that appeals universally to the young and the young at heart.
The show is simple, unadulterated fun. While the story and set may seem simple or even generic, it’s meant to be. The entire original script was allegedly written in six weeks. There are some low budget movie-to-stage adaptations that take twice as long to write. The simplicity helps to keep audiences from feeling overwhelmed by the language barrier and shifts focus on the best parts of the show: the immense vocal talent, wonderful characters, and shockingly sharp humor.
The entire show is sung with grace, elegance and enough power to physically press audience members into their seats. I sat near the back so I could more easily read the subtitling machine while watching the action play out onstage, yet I could clearly hear every single individual lyric. The vocals were never overpowered by the live orchestra nor were they unclear.
I also can not emphasize enough how beautiful it all sounds. While songs can get repetitive in terms of lyrics, the range, volume and variety in the notes become better with each repetition. While I can only speak three-ish words in Italian, I was hanging on every syllable.
The characters themselves may be fairly simple, but the acting direction itself is anything but! Nearly every single joke relied on physicality rather than wordplay, and this meant that action onstage could become cartoonish in the best possible way. To provide an example, in a single interaction between two characters I saw: The Bend & Snap™, violent flower abuse, a switchblade standoff and WWE-style body slam off a wall. The fast paced comedy nearly made me forget that some scenes and songs can last over 10 minutes.
There are very few things about the show that didn’t work. When you walk in, there are multiple signs warning audiences of the use of strobe lights for a single scene in act one. As one who’s sensitive, I appreciated the clear warnings. When the scene came up, however, it was much larger and more intense than I believed it would be. I had to look away after a few seconds because I was afraid of getting a migraine. After consulting with the director, I discover that it wasn’t just my imagination, the strobe effect was about forty seconds long. The strobe effect was only used once to exaggerate a physical gag, so I would say that it would be easy to skip.
The only other complaint I have is the location of the subtitle screen. It’s a decent size, but it’s simply placed too high to be comfortably seen from the front few rows. However, the fact that the general admission tickets allow for first come seating make this is a rather small problem.
Overall, this is a wonderful show full of cutting humor and graceful vocals that I highly recommend for those who are daunted by a traditional opera. Student tickets are also five dollars, so it's a massive bargain. For more information, visit the website for the Bijou Theatre.