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Entertainment & Arts

Irreverent Pacific Opera Project takes on ‘La Gazzetta’

la-et-cm-la-gazzetta
Jonathan Lacayo (Lackey), left, and E. Scott Levin (Don Pomponio) in a production photo from Pacific Opera Project’s “La Gazzetta.”
(Josh Shaw)

If you snag a cozy table at the Highland Park Ebell Club for Pacific Opera Project’s upcoming summer production of Rossini’s “La Gazzetta,” expect to experience more than a few moments of operatic déjà vu.

Even the most seasoned opera-goers have likely never seen this 19th century Italian comedy about a pretentious, overbearing Neapolitan father who places ads in newspapers across Europe in a misguided attempt to marry off his daughter.

While the story and characters will be new to audience members, the music will sound strikingly familiar: The score contains snippets of material quoted directly from some of Rossini’s more well-known works, including bits of an ensemble from “The Barber of Seville” and the entire overture to “La Cenerentola.”

After its premiere in Naples in 1816, “La Gazzetta” was basically shelved. While its more famous siblings such as “Barber” went on to become staples of the operatic repertoire around the world, “La Gazzetta” was relegated to textbook footnotes.

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Performed just twice across the entire 19th and 20th centuries, the work has been revived a handful of times in Europe since 2001. Students at Boston’s New England Conservatory gave the work its U.S. premiere in 2013. Pacific Opera Project’s upcoming performances mark both its West Coast premiere and its second U.S. production.

The opera’s unlikely 21st century revival is largely the result of one musicologist’s work. For decades, only the text to “La Gazzetta” was extant. Philip Gossett, a Rossini scholar and professor of music at the University of Chicago until his death in June 2017, found and pieced together the missing music, including a long-lost quintet that surfaced in the library at the Conservatory of Palermo in Italy in 2011. A librarian there sent the miscellaneous music, labeled “Quintetto,” to Gossett, who quickly recognized it as the lost ensemble from “La Gazetta’s” first act.

Pacific Opera Project artistic and executive director Josh Shaw first discovered “La Gazzetta” at the end of a Wikipedia/YouTube rabbit hole.

“I spend a lot of time every year looking at what we need to accomplish in terms of presenting standard repertoire and some things that are off the beaten path,” Shaw explains.

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Pacific Opera Project La Gazzetta
The cast of Pacific Opera Project’s 2018 production of Rossini’s ‘La Gazzetta.”
(Josh Shaw )

“There are hundreds of factors. I’m looking for pieces with more roles for women, things the POP audience is going to automatically love, and things I know we’ll do well, like this kind of silly comedy. Rossini works for us. And really, for this one, it’s the music. It’s just so catchy. You can’t help but hum along to these tunes.”

To make “La Gazzetta” work on a POP-sized budget, Shaw needed a score for a small (read: affordable) ensemble. And so he turned to frequent POP collaborator Brooke deRosa, a singer and composer who is also conducting this production.

Using the existing incomplete score, a piano/vocal score of the newly discovered quintet and clues from recordings and Rossini’s other operas, deRosa pieced together a sort of Franken-score, fully orchestrated for small ensemble.

“I had a really good guideline to work with,” the composer-arranger said on a recent POPeracast, describing the most rewarding part of this tedious work as seeing “one note at a time how a master puts together a masterwork.”

While this production of “La Gazzetta” marks an exciting, rare opportunity to hear a Rossini opera for the first time, POP is sure to make it a comfortable, familiar experience.

Fans of the nimble pop-up company will recognize Shaw’s loose, modernized English supertitles –– expect at least one “fake news” joke –– and the central figure of the opera, Don Pomponio, will be sung by POP regular bass/baritone Scott Levin (Leporello in POP’s “Don Giovanni,” Bartolo in the company’s “Barber”).

Rossini wrote “La Gazzetta” for a local Neapolitan audience, and so the character of Don Pomponio sings in the Neapolitan dialect, a challenge for Levin, who, like most opera singers, is used to traversing Italian texts but has never sung in this dialect before.

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Originally, “La Gazzetta” was hyper-local and hyper-contemporary, speaking directly to Rossini’s 19th century Neapolitan audience. And yet, with its timeless comedy, instantly hummable tunes and contemporary themes, it might just be a perfect fit for this 21st century opera company and audience, too.

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La Gazzetta runs June 28, 29, 30, and July 6 and 7

All performances at 8pm at the Highland Park Ebell Club,

131 S. Ave. 57 Los Angeles, 90042

The final performance will also be shown on Facebook Live.

Tickets: pacificoperaproject.com

See all of our latest arts news and reviews at latimes.com/arts.

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