VIENNA, Va. (April 23, 2011) — Can lightning strike twice? Well, maybe. The Wolf Trap Opera plans to find out this week, as they unveil their world premiere production of John Musto’s and Mark Campbell’s new opera, The Inspector. Based on Nikolai Gogol’s classic political satire, “The Government Inspector,” the opera was commissioned by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.
To add a familiar dash of spice for its American audience, librettist Mark Campbell transports Gogol’s tale to the town of Santa Schifezza in sunny Sicily. The time: circa the 1930’s, when fascism was in flower. The town’s corrupt Mayor-for-Life and his cronies are horrified when they discover that a government inspector from the Mussolini regime might be paying Santa Schifezza a visit. Will their chicanery and malefactions be uncovered? When Tancredi, a desperate fugitive from Rome suddenly shows up in their midst, the town assumes he’s the much-feared inspector and the fun—and the elaborate political coverups—all get underway.
It’s not much of a stretch to reimagine this same scenario in today’s America, rife as it is with a sclerotic government apparatus, crony capitalism, and greedy incumbent politicians who never lose elections, but manage to embroil us in Great Recessions. Mr. Campbell waives off any suggestion of specific political references in his libretto. “But it does criticize people who are enjoying a very fast rise in government,” he says, “and may be dispensing with their morals as they go.”
For his part, composer John Musto—given his own Italian ancestry—is delighted in the story’s change of venue, which gave him a chance create his new score with a Sicilian flair. While Mr. Campbell is known for his witty libretti, Mr. Musto, almost alone among contemporary opera composer’s, isn’t afraid to write a few tunes you can remember, and the Italian motif makes this a natural for The Inspector. Comparing the new work to Volpone, Mr. Musto is confident that “The Inspector takes up where Volpone left off. Only this time, the scoundrels are in public office.”
For this week’s premiere performances, helmed by veteran opera stage director Leon Major, Glen Cortese will conduct the Wolf Trap Opera orchestra and a largish cast of accomplished singers highlighted by a number of returning Wolf Trap alumni, including baritone Robert Orth (Mayor Fazzobaldi), mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen (Mrs. Fazzobaldi), and soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird as their daughter.
The Inspector’s sprightly period sets were created by Erhard Rom, whose imaginative opera scenarios are familiar to both Wolf Trap and Washington National Opera patrons. Dapper period costuming—particularly snazzy for the wealthy politicos—was designed by David O. Roberts.
With The Inspector, Wolf Trap hopes to build on the success of the previous Musto and Campbell premiere, the increasingly popular and well-traveled Volpone—also commissioned by the Wolf Trap Foundation. The company’s cheeky 2009 recording of that work was nominated for a Grammy award, an unprecedented recognition for a small opera troupe. If Volpone’s success is any indication, the company might just find itself with a second hit on its hands this week.
Performances of The Inspector will take place at the Barns on April 27 and 29 at 8 p.m., and on May 1 at 3 p.m. Ticket prices range from $32-72. For tickets, information, and directions, link to Wolf Trap’s main website, or visit The Inspector’s page here.
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