Literal “Space Opera” Brings Star Trek and Mozart Together At Last
By Courtney Blackburn
Pacific Opera Project has “boldly gone where no opera company has gone before” in a Star Trek-themed production of Abduction from the Seraglio, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s lighthearted, comedic opera that usually takes place within an 18th-century Turkish harem. The plot is simple: two women have been captured. Their suitors arrive on the scene and attempt to free them from their captors.
Written in 1782, in German, the tail-end of this opera can be seen in the Oscar-winning “Amadeus” as the one with “too many notes.”
Well, POP has translated that German “libretto,” or text, into English. And moved the harem to … planet M113. And the Turkish Pasha? A Klingon Warlord. Don’t question it. The results are strangely glorious. And whether you are a rabid Star Trek fan or just versed enough to get by in pop culture, this zany and pitch-perfect opera triumphs in pure laugh-out-loud hilarity.
The stage is a dry desert world with three large moons faintly glowing in the orange sky. Large boulders are the only residents. Suddenly, a beam sizzles down on this desolate place, depositing our hero.
He hits a few manly action poses for the camera, swings his head from side to side, and cocks an eyebrow (along with his phaser). Snorts and giggles come from the audience. And thusly, we are introduced to Captain James T. “Belmonte,” (Brian Cheney) who sings about freeing his captured love, Lieutenant “Constanza,” (Shawnette Sulker) from the clutches of the evil, lecherous Klingon Chancellor Selim (Gregg Lawrence).
Belmonte sings in an operatic tenor (in English, too — an unusual but mostly understandable vocal styling helped by subtitles beamed above the stage for the audience) that his second in command — the logical, emotionless Vulcan, Mr. “Pedrillo,” (Robert Norman)–is also currently slave of this Klingon captor.
Klingons swarm the stage, herding a gaggle of screaming, multi-hued slave girls, and Capt. Belmonte ducks behind a large boulder. The Klingons, led by Osmin (Phil Meyer), the slave overseer of a bass persuasion, sing what the subtitle describes as “Um … something in Klingon … more Klingon …” which provokes a hearty laugh from the entire theatre. That laughs grows to a roar as Belmonte, with even more swagger and impatience, pulls out his “Universal Translator!” and the words suddenly change to English.
And this irreverent style continues throughout the play. In song, of course–this is, and never ceases to be, an operatic performance! One noteworthy scene has Belmonte singing about his “throbbing heart” with so many double entendres and bawdy Star-Trek references that he causes the straight-faced Pedrillo to crack a smile.
Lt. Constanza, meanwhile, refuses to be wooed and won by Chancellor Selim, and gives up a trilling aria about her love for Belmonte. As a note, none of the actors wore mikes–every line and song was projected through voice alone.
Back to the comedy! Osmin unsuccessfully attempts to ravish the token Star-Trek-green-girl-in-a-gold-bikini Blondie (Claire Averill) whose cutesy New-Yorker accent falls away to reveal a ringing, powerful soprano. Osmin is slave to her voice, and so is the theatre.
When intermission comes, comments flow: “It’s amazing how closely they follow the story,” “I’m having a good time!” and “I love it, I love it!”
Nearing the end, Captain Belmonte and Pedrillo finally grab their girls and escape–but decide to sing a song before leaving. It’s a song about leaving, of course, but that doesn’t help as the Klingons return and capture them … again.
Things look bleak for the crew. But at the last minute, Klingon Chancellor Selim decides to release them–probably because that, too, was Mozart’s original ending. So, instead of decapitations, the opera closes with a full-throated aria from the whole cast–Klingons, slave girls, and heroes all. “Now we continue on our voyage/And sing a final rousing chorus!”
One of the finest moments came as the cast was taking their well-deserved bows: a picture of Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock was projected, and the performance was dedicated to him. The cheers from the audience were mixed with cries, and brought down the house.
Where to begin? As an opera novice, I could not tell you any of the finer details involved in the singing, or how closely the translation of the performance fits Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. But what I heard were performers with amazing voices (and resumes!) and the wordplay of the English translation was excellent. Josh Shaw, artistic director of POP, spearheaded this entertaining comedy and did a fabulous job in concept and execution of “bold” new vision. This version brings Mozart’s music, and opera as a genre, to a whole new audience, for which I am grateful. A 27-piece orchestra, conducted by Stephen Karr, sounded great, and colorful costumes by Maggie Green set the “outer” space.
And I do want to mention the fantastic performances–each player, from the absolute ham Captain Belmonte to the straight-faced-with-a-hint-of-struggle Pedrillo to the glowering and lanky Osmin to the cutesy slave-girl Blondie to the emotional and strongly feminine Lt. Constanza, absolutely embodied the character given to him or her. Some received more straight-up laughter (Brian Cheney’s overblown mannerisms really killed), but it was the ensemble as a whole that sole this riotous, rowdy comedy set in space.
At the beautiful and historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, all three days of this limited run of “Abduction” sold out all 350 seats. It is a shame so few shows were shown. Hopefully, publicity and audience enthusiasm will bring this fabulous and entertaining opera back into theatres soon!
POP’s next offering is “Ariadne of Naxos.” POP continues its mission of providing affordable, accessible, and entertaining opera in intimate venues across Los Angeles. Despite the increase in production value and comforts, ticket prices start at only $15.
For more information and to purchase tickets please visit http://www.pacificoperaproject.com, or call the Pacific Opera Project hotline at (323) 739-6122. If all their operas are like this one, I may become an opera lover yet!
Curious? Here’s a little footage from the show, kindly provided by Josh Shaw: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3URifovHj0