Utah Opera has been taking some serious risks this season, partially due to its temporary homelessness while Capitol Theater is undergoing renovation. They opened the 2013-2014 season at Abravanel Hall with a daring production of Salome that mostly fell flat and quickly followed with Fatal Song, a light-hearted collection of arias performed at the Rose Wagner Theater.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with Fatal Song since the description on Utah Opera’s website simply stated that it was a cabaret-style performance written by Salt Lake Acting Company’s playwright Kathleen Cahill. Once my friend and I arrived at Rose Wagner, our curiosity was only piqued further as we were seated on stage. That’s right, seated up on stage, facing the rows of seats.
Several tables were scattered on the stage for guests, surrounded by rows of chairs. We sat at a table and it suddenly made sense why there was a dinner package option available with tickets. We were also allowed to bring the drinks we purchased in the lobby inside the theater. (Side note: Did you know that you can buy beer at Utah Opera events? The option is limited to beer, not wine, but we are grateful nonetheless!)
Artistic Director Christopher Macbeth must have enjoyed watching everyone’s look of surprise when we walked in the theater because he gleefully explained that this wasn’t your ordinary opera—as we had all figured out by now. There was no orchestra; instead the singers (and us, as it felt since we were so close to the action on stage) would be serenaded by Jerry Steichen, the Utah Symphony Pops Conductor, on solo piano. A few props were scattered onstage, along with a hanging wardrobe for costume changes, and that was it.
Fatal Song was inspired by Kathleen Cahill’s realization that so many sopranos meet an untimely death in opera. (A fact I never thought of until Friday night!) The story follows several sopranos as they meet in an alternative universe to band together in refusal to die at the whims of the librettists. Five sopranos played varying roles from famous operas with the help of two male singers.
Cahill skillfully weaves the standout soprano arias from La Boheme, Cosi fan Tutti, The Magic Flute, La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro, Otello, Carmen, Manon, Lucia di Lammermoor, Romeo and Juliette, Candide and The Tales of Hoffman (and others I may have missed). There were no supertitles, leaving the focus strictly to the music (which I loved).
The performance was rife with inside jokes, which were awesome when I got them. But there were times when a little more context to decipher the characters would have helped—and that’s coming from someone who has seen almost every opera portrayed in the show. On the other hand, my friend who has only seen one opera still enjoyed the performance without knowing most of the inside jokes, so maybe I was just anxious to get all the references.
Simply put, I loved Fatal Song. It was an enjoyable, lighthearted look at the highlights from many of my favorite operas. We were so close to the action that the singers could make eye contact. It was a welcome contrast to the previous performance of Salome, when so many people complained that they couldn’t read the supertitles or hear the singers. While I look forward to a traditional opera in their newly-renovated home theater, Utah Opera deserves a lot of applause for Fatal Song.
Next up for Utah Opera is La Traviata, one of my favorite operas of all time, back at Capitol Theater in January. Tickets are available online here.