There are times--thankfully few--when one wonders exactly where the boundaries between opera, operetta and musical comedy lie, and how one crosses them without getting mud on one's shoes.
A brace of blithely inconsequential works--a pair of one-act "operas"--were put on by the UCLA Opera Workshop over the weekend, adding new impetus to the search for a reckonable boundary.
These hybrid creatures (usually discernible by the added adjective comic to their description) often have the texture of operetta and the mawkish elan of musical comedy, but remain opera for some ineluctable reason--perhaps because so few operas are being written and performed in these fallow days.
Still, efforts such as those of American composers Thomas Pasatieri--represented at UCLA by his "Signor Deluso" of 1974, and Martin Mangold--by a recent work titled, believe it or not, "Bleah!"-- aren't really operas as much as they are divertissements , bite-size confections.
Of the two, "Signor Deluso" is by far the more charming and skillfully designed, though that really isn't saying much. Based on a particularly creaky Moliere farce ("Sganarelle"), "Signor Deluso" huffs and puffs its way through mistaken identities, a jealous husband/wife combo and inevitable reconciliations with a treacly ersatz Menottian musical backdrop.
There is some spirited invention in a sextet that becomes a quartet that becomes a duet, but it's hard to notice.
A rather too-self-conscious stab at musical Ionesco, "Bleah!" is a musical hash of sideways fox-trots a la Milhaud, strange bluesy numbers sung by lawyers and various ensembles which feature bag ladies, policemen and randy female judges.
The case for the work's subject--a crooked businessman being able to buy the best legal help and the judge's favor(s) by merely feigning inanity--is dismissed on the grounds of extreme silliness.
Too bad such youthful energy as the workshop's members displayed--plus, on occasion, notable musicianship--was spent on such trivia. But then, that's what young singers go to school for--to learn what fare to avoid when they get Out There and try to make a living at it.
Samuel Krachmalnick led the singers and chamber ensembles in both works with verve that sometimes bordered on the headlong. The stage direction of Heinz Blankenburg (for the Pasatieri) and John Hall (Mangold) did not prove particularly helpful to the singers.