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January 22, 2014

Comic Opera

VSU presents a musical double bill

VALDOSTA — As Dr. Scruples in Valdosta State University Opera’s latest production, Dr. John Gaston plays a retired College of the Arts dean.

Given he is VSU’s recently retired College of the Arts dean, it is a role he understands well, but with the VSU Opera adaptation by Tamara Hardesty of Gottlieb Stephanie’s libretto for Mozart’s “The Impresario,” Gaston plays a character that is only loosely based upon himself.

He can understand Dr. Scruples’ trials and tribulations in preparing an opera production, but the real-life, soft-spoken Gaston plays a grousing, put-upon retired dean, which makes Hardesty’s lines about university fund-raising and community relations all the more hilarious.

Especially for an audience familiar with both Gaston and the workings of an artistic production.  

It promises to be a magical piece in VSU Opera’s “Then & Now” performances, which features both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario)” and Thomas Pasatieri’s “Signor Deluso.” Creating a work that appears to be an opera within an opera.

As “Then & Now” conductor Kenneth Kirk notes, “Of the two works on the current bill, Thomas Pasatieri’s ‘Signor Deluso,’ a favorite of (VSU Opera) executive producer Carol Mikkelsen previously done in 1985, was the last work produced at VSU before the present incarnation of VSU Opera. Mozart’s ‘Impresario’ is especially meaningful to me because the overture was the first piece I ever conducted with orchestra.”

This production also represents a part of a new type of season for VSU Opera.

Traditionally, the university opera company produces one opera per season. This time, VSU Opera presents three productions for the 2013-14 season, which opened last fall with “Opera After Dark,” continues this weekend with “Then & Now,” and concludes April 19, 20, with “Opera Baroque.”

“The Impresario” is different in that it opens with a scene that is more theatrical play than expected opera. Gaston’s Dr. Scruples converses with his assistant and an overbearing community patron who introduces them to the well-known opera star Gabrielle Goldentrill. Played by Caroline Hatchett, the introduction of Goldentrill reminds audiences that this is indeed opera, as Hatchett fills Whitehead Auditorium with Mozart’s music.

As the director of “Then & Now,” Hardesty brings a broad measure of farce and wit to both productions. Pasatieri based “Signor Deluso” on Moliere’s “Sganarelle,” who is the French satirist’s version of Don Juan’s dull and craven assistant. All without ever forgetting the enchantment of the music.

“We have tried to enhance Pasatieri’s wonderful Pucciniesque music by thickening his lean chamber orchestration with the addition of contrabasses — absent in the original orchestration — and with other string doublings,” Kirk notes.

Opera should be enlightening, but Kirk believes it should also be entertaining.

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