With 3 Operas, 15 Minutes Each: Gateway Opera Brings Brevity to Mozart's Wit

click to enlarge Gateway Opera lives its life a quarter-hour at a time in 15 Minute Mozarts. - CATELYN VAN BUREN
Gateway Opera lives its life a quarter-hour at a time in 15 Minute Mozarts.
The stereotype about opera is that it’s loud, it’s long and it’s overly dramatic. Oh, and then someone, usually a woman, dies, and it's all over.

In truth, operas come in many flavors. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Da Ponte operas — Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan Tutte — all feature libretti by Lorenzo Da Ponte and exemplify the possibilities of the form. Figaro is a comedy about a count trying to bed his servant's fiancée before their marriage while his other servants attempt to embarrass their master for his temerity. Don Giovanni is about ladies' man Don Juan, whose carnal lust leads him to a fateful meeting with a choir of devils; it's half comedy, half melodrama. The third is another comedy about a pair of noble friends who attempt to trick their fiancées into swapping partners through disguise and deception. All three remain popular among modern audiences for their beautiful music and their comic turns. And all three will be performed in one night by Gateway Opera on May 11 — but there is a twist.

The company's 15 Minute Mozarts will condense each opera down to fifteen minutes, courtesy of adapter Caetlyn Van Buren. As Gateway's development and marketing manager Michaeleh Metz explains, this wasn't an easy task.

"Every time I saw Caetlyn over the last few months she's said 'I cut five more minutes. I cut another eight minutes, but I'm keeping this scene mostly intact.' It's definitely been a challenge," Metz says with just a hint of understatement.

For several seasons now, Gateway Opera has gravitated toward short opera written by contemporary composers. These have ranged from 2016's GO Showcase, which featured "LOLCATS teh Opera” and "Star Trek the Opera," to last season's "Snow White Turns Sixty" and the absurdist politically charged murder mystery, "a Shell of a Troll." Why go short rather than long?

"I think there's a couple reasons," Metz answers. "It's been somewhat accidental. We stumbled on operas we liked and that were good for our audience. But also, these shorter works are punchier and more exciting and bring in a crowd. Also, it's part of our mission statement to support emerging composers, singers and directors; the shorter ones give us more opportunities to do that."

As for 15 Minute Mozarts, even if you're intimately familiar with the Da Ponte trio, Metz promises a very different experience from the standard staging.

"Our costumes are fairly traditional, and the setting is fairly minimal," Metz offers. "But this is Mozart like you haven't seen before. They're funny, and they have contemporary references for the modern audiences."

Doubters should be aware that Caetlyn Van Buren is the person behind the internet-famous khanandkittens.tumblr.com, a site where Van Buren Photoshops cat heads on the bodies of Star Trek, Star Wars and Benedict Cumberbatch characters. She definitely has an eye for the ridiculous moment.

15 Minute Mozarts is performed at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday (May 11 and 12) at the Chapel (6238 Alexander Drive; www.gatewayopera.org). Tickets are $25 to $30.
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