'Too Many Sopranos' hits the high notes

By Christopher Hyde, Portland Press Herald, June 22, 2008

Really good parody has to be as close as possible to the subject being lampooned. That was certainly true of Friday night's premiere performance by Maine's Emerging Artists of “Too Many Sopranos” at the Portland Museum of Art.

This is an absolutely marvelous operatic spoof, and I urge anyone who can get tickets to attend one of the four remaining performances.

Maine's Emerging Artists, originated by PORTopera, consists of young singers and understudies for the company's July production of “Romeo et Juliette.”

Its mission is to bring opera to a larger Maine audience. “Too Many Sopranos,” its best effort yet, should result in considerably more fans.

MEA Cast of 'Too Many Sopranos'

The thesis of the two-act comic opera by Edwin Penhorwood is that four divas arrive at heaven's gate, only to find that the angelic choir, directed by the Angel Gabriel, has too many soprano voices already, while most of the tenors and basses are in the other place.

St. Peter suggests first, to their horror, that the famous divas audition. When that proves a draw, he leads them to Hades, where they have a chance to redeem a lost tenor or bass soul and thus open up the coveted spot in the choir.

Eventually, as in all comic opera, love conquers all, and the entire cast appears for a rousing tango to the refrain: “I'll never sing opera again.”

Four types of soprano are wickedly depicted by Penhorwood: Dame Doleful, sung by Lori L’Italien, in a ’20s flapper costume straight out of Edward Gorey, always attempting to steal the show with histrionics; Madame Pompous, sung by Dana Schnitzer, a large Wagnerian soprano with a voice that shatters glass; Miss Titmouse, Dori Smith, who manages to be both shrill and flat, in arias like that of the doll in “The Tales of Hoffmann”; and Just Jeanette, Sarah M. Mawn, who, like her namesake, is a wholesome American girl who just happens to have a great voice.

Her counterpart in hell, of course, is tenor Nelson Deadly, sung with becoming reticence by J. Thomas C. Morris.

All sing Penhorwood's extremely clever – and highly musical – satires to perfection, with something uncomfortably close to reality. Bass-baritone Daniel Cyr, as St. Peter, is an ideal straight man, who nevertheless manages some sly reactions to the goings-on and prompts many of them. A somber baritone, Nicholas Connolly is fine as the supremely boring stage manager Orson; and John Coons makes a suitably flamboyant tenor, Enrico Carouser.

All the voices are excellent, solo and together, but the most surprising role is that of Gabriel, sung by Lauren Onsrud, who seems at first an understudy to St. Peter, but emerges down below as the Sandman, a superb singer with ambitions of her own. In the finale, she begins trilling what seems to be a real aria and has to be bundled off the stage.

The direction, by Ellen Chickering, is fast-paced and funny, while accompanist Aaron Robinson, on keyboard, is literally a one-man orchestra.


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