Review: ‘Fatal Song’ pokes affectionate fun at opera

First Published      Last Updated Nov 15 2013 10:36 am

Utah Opera should take its show on the road more often.

Extensive renovations have sent the company on what artistic director Christopher McBeth called "a little bit of an exile" from its usual home, the Capitol Theatre, this autumn. So instead of one conventionally staged opera in October, audiences got a stunning, inventively staged production of Richard Strauss' "Salome" in Abravanel Hall last month and a delightfully daffy send-up of the genre in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center this weekend.

That second show is "Fatal Song," a crazy quilt of operatic favorites stitched together by playwright Kathleen Cahill. The premise is simple: A bunch of opera heroines start to notice that someone or something is killing them off. They then wink their way through some of the genre's most celebrated moments.

"Fatal Song" doesn't mock the arias themselves, mind. The performances in Utah Opera's production, which opened Thursday, are never less than solid, and in some cases, they're downright glorious. The cabaret-style seating puts the audience in the thick of the action. It's a rare treat to sit just feet away from soprano Celena Shafer as she sings Lucia di Lammermoor's aria "Regnava nel silencio," for example, or to get a close-up view of soprano Jennifer Welch-Babidge pouring out her heart in "Mi chiamono Mimì" from "La bohème" or Pamina's suicide aria from "The Magic Flute." Such moments give new appreciation for the singer's art.

But even the most ardent fans of opera — and, judging by her astute musical choices and witty script, Cahill is a member of that group — must admit that the art form is ripe for parody. "Put a sweater on, Mimì," says soprano Amy Owens, in character as Figaro's beloved Susanna. "And do something about that cough."

Later in the show, Mimì is surprised to learn that Violetta plans to throw a party when she is clearly dying of consumption. "You can hardly speak," Mimì exclaims.

"But I can still sing!" replies Violetta, played by soprano Megan Cash, and she launches into a rousing rendition of "Sempre libera."

Other highlights include mezzo Kirsten Gunlogsen's performance of Carmen's "Habanera," Owens' spirited "Glitter and Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's "Candide" and tenor Tyson Miller's earnest portrayal of Manon Lescaut's beloved Chevalier Des Grieux. Baritone Christopher Clayton oozes malevolent charm as the Master of Ceremonies, who manipulates the action.

Costume designer Patti Campbell dresses all five women in simple ivory frocks, accessorized by key costume pieces that make it easy to remember who's who as the arias and characters fly by. Conductor Jerry Steichen also gives a few clever cues from the piano, and Jim Christian's stage direction strikes the right comic notes.



Death and the diva

Utah Opera presents Kathleen Cahill’s “Fatal Song,” a theatrical piece incorporating several popular opera arias.

When » Reviewed Thursday, Nov. 14; repeats Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15-16, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 17, at 4 p.m.

Where » Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City; the audience will be seated onstage.

Dinner » Two dinner options are available for $20 each; call 801-533-NOTE.

Tickets » General admission from $35, cabaret seating from $50; visit bit.ly/17IzD6J