Waco opera fans get two operas for the price of one in Baylor Opera Theater’s fall production opening Tuesday — the one-acts “Signor Deluso” and “Trouble In Tahiti” — but theater director Susan Li also has her eye out for the potential fan, too.
“ ‘That opera was too short,’ said no one,” she said with a laugh, then went on to point out other attributes that might persuade the mildly opera-averse into attending: They’re in English and both written in the last half century.
The two works, both double-cast with different conductors and orchestras of different size, address human relationships and their frailty, serious and comic, in contrasting tonal and musical styles.
Thomas Pasatieri’s 1974 “Signor Deluso” sends up operatic excesses in a story loosely based on Moliere’s comedy “The Imaginary Cuckold.” Leonard Bernstein’s 1952 work “Trouble In Tahiti” centers on an unhappy married couple in 1950s suburbia.
“Deluso” swings on hasty and mistaken interpretations. Célie (Katie Wick, Tuesday, and Becky Armenta, Wednesday and Nov. 11) is in love with Léon (Aaron Cates, Joshua Lee), but her father Gorgibus (Preston Hart, Christopher Orr) forbids their relationship.
She faints in public and Signor Deluso (Nathaniel Medlin) revives her, setting in motion multiple rumors. Deluso’s wife Clara (Paige Shelton, Carly Orr) thinks he’s having an affair with Deluso. He thinks his wife is involved with Léon and Célie starts to believe that Léon is unfaithful to her until maid Rosine (Rebecca Bradley) enters the picture to set everyone straight.
“Deluso’s” music is appropriately athletic and robust, Li said, while its set, cartoonish with off-balance proportions, suggests that things are not what they seem.
The tone shifts in Bernstein’s “Tahiti,” a look at a 1950s married couple, Dinah (Autumn Scott, Megan Gackle) and Sam (Austin-Sinclair Harris), who should be happy according to their lifestyle and class, as reminded by a jazz trio that acts like a Greek chorus (Sarah Holevinski, Kameron Alston, John Daugherty; and Hannah Hyden, Eric Mejia, John Daugherty). Their efforts to connect emotionally, however, frequently miss.
The Tahiti in “Tahiti” is a metaphoric one, a stand-in for the idyllic happiness the couple supposes they should be having, but aren’t. “These are ideas of what family life should be, as seen by Madison Avenue in the 1950s,” Li explained. “What’s interesting is how little things have changed, but how the messages have become more veiled.”
Some see the story as Bernstein’s commentary on his parents and the music is vintage Bernstein: complex, jazzy and complicated. While “Deluso’s” set uses white in its negative spaces, the “Tahiti” set has black filling the spaces.
An orchestra of 16 pieces, led by assistant professor of vocal coaching Joseph Li, supports “Tahiti” while a smaller, eight-piece orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Peterson, also an assistant professor of vocal coaching, backs “Deluso.”
“Deluso” runs approximately a half hour with “Tahiti” slightly longer at about 50 minutes.