The art scene in the Northeast Valley reached a crescendo this past weekend when Mission Opera debuted its first production, Mozart’s “Cosi fan Tutte” (All Women Do The Same).
The performance in a small theater inside the Los Angeles Mission Creative Arts Center building showed off local talent, incorporating professional and semiprofessional opera singers with the college’s choir and students helping in the production. Three different casts of singers performed during the different performances last weekend. But every night only six performed.
Mission Opera is the brainchild of Dr. Joshua Wentz, Professor of Music at Mission College, who has spent nine years as a professional opera singer performing different operas all over the world and around Los Angeles.
The idea is to bring high-quality entertainment to the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys. As Wentz describes it, “Bring more opera to places that don’t have many fine art things, which is Sylmar and the Northeast Valley. And we’re also in Santa Clarita Valley because that’s an underserved population.”
It’s also a teaching moment for his students.
“They’re also learning how to sing classic style, how to use their voices to project,” he said. “But also [learn] how opera is made, how all the elements of theater come together that make for a great show.”
At the same time, Wentz said, it’s also about “revitalizing opera,” by bringing it to an audience that otherwise wouldn’t see it.
“We’re trying to get opera out before it dies away,” he said, noting the need to change the art form’s “old and stuffy” image for a more modern and accessible look.
“This is supposed to be mass entertainment,” added Stage Director Carson Gilmore, who said that opera performances in the 18th and 19th centuries were meant for mass audiences, similar to movie goers nowadays.
Mission Opera started small because Wentz is footing some of the production bill, along with some individual donors. Since it was just founded this year, he hasn’t been able to apply for cultural grants as a nonprofit. Wentz, who also took on the job of directing the live orchestra providing music for the show, plans to have four more performances in the fall and winter.
That’s why they chose this particular six-person show with very few props and scene changes. It’s the art form at its most minimal.
But it doesn’t mean it was bad. On the contrary, the two-hour opera sung in Italian (with a short intermission) was thoroughly enjoyable and easy to follow with English subtitles being projected on either side of the stage, even delighting a couple of young teenagers in the audience.
Updating “Cosi fan Tutte” from its original 18th century European setting into mid-1950s America also added to the ease of the story. The singing — at least to the untrained ear of this reporter — sounded good.
There were also enough funny moments and costumes worn by the actors to keep the audience entertained and clapping.
If the idea is to bring opera to the masses, this is clearly a way to do it — an easily accessible setting, without the extravagance and formality of the usual performance scenarios and with affordable ticket prices ($15 for students, $25 for general audience).
The small theater also magnified the cadenzas and arias sung by the actors, who were just mere feet from the audience, creating a better connection with those present.
On June 18, they will have an Opera Night at Los Angeles Mission College with a concert starting at 6 p.m., followed afterwards by a dinner at Caruso’s Italian Kitchen. Tickets are $15 and you buy your own dinner. For more information, visit www.missionopera.com.