Last Monday the Wolf Trap of the National Park Service announced tonight's opening of the Children's Opera Theater production of "Viva la Mama."
The name of the composer was not listed. Had someone goofed?
Decidedly not, was the reply of a Park Service officaial who asked not to be identified. "They said the opera was by Donizetti. So we checked every authoritative source and even though he at least began work on close to 70 operas in 25 years none of the titles sounded anything close to 'Viva la Mama.' We felt we had to be cautious."
The caution was justified, because Donizetti never wrote anything called "Viva la Mama." Michael Kaye, the Opera's artistic director agreed with that last week. "But it is a one-act Donizetti comedy and a fine one that is gaining in popularity," he said.
"Viva la Mama" is not pure Donizetti; but it is Kaye's performing version of Donizetti's 1827 musical spoof, "Le Convenieze ed convenienze tretrali" -- a tale of conflicting egos at rehearsal in a provincial Italian opera house.
Kaye said the new title arose because "the Italian is unwieldy and does not translate well. It's had lots of titles in English, like "The Prima Donna's Mother Is a Drag' in England. It was a great hit as 'Viva la Mama' in San Francisco so i decided on that."
In that production the star was the same as in Kaye's-P.D.Q. Bach counter-tenor John Ferrante, who plays the rampaging mother of the secondary soprano.
Kaye claimed his version restores the opera "to what Donizetti intended," whereas "presently the only source for the complete material is an un wieldy assortment of scores and manuscripts. . ."
This is accomplished by relegating to an appendix all the music the composer wrote in 1831 for an expanded two-act version and by adding to Kaye's one-act version a little-known aria by Donizetti's famed contemporary, Vicenzo Bellini. A debatable solution, perhaps, but not without precedent in other cases.
One reason for the confusion over Donizetti's work is that most of it had fallen out of repertory until recent years with the influence of Maria Callas and Beverly Sills.
When an enormous body on work is rediscovered, misunderstandings and misjudgments will occur. When the Metropolitan Opera first did "cosi Fan Tutte" in English, they used the provocative, if misleading, title "women are Like That." It was a mistake that the Park Service would have caught.