Pacific Opera Project's Mozart vs Salieri Review - More Fun from a Great Company

Pacific Opera Project (POP) is the little opera company that could. Artistic Director Josh Shaw and his partner, Musical Director Stephen Karr, are continually thinking of new ways to bring opera greats to the public, and often in new venues. 

In the Mozart piece (L to R): Karen Hogle-Brown, Christopher Anderson-West and Brooke deRosa (Alex Boyd crouching)

They seem to be attracting more and more accomplished singers to fill their projects. The latest offering, Mozart vs. Salieri, is no exception.

Impresario Andy Pappas and assistant Alex Boyd

In this piece POP takes their cue from a 1786 real competition held by Emperor Joseph II between two short operas, The Impresario  (Der Schauspieldirektor) by W.A. Mozart and Prima La Musica, E Poi Le Parole, by Antonio Salieri. Dinner guests at the Schronbrunn Palace would simply turn their seats from one side to the other to see both shows. POP creates the same setup at the lovely South Pasadena Library.

Costuming in the Mozart is modern dress and set in L.A.

It works out logistically fairly well, although the library room, being much larger than the dinner table, makes it a bit harder to see from the center area -  especially any action that takes place from the waist down. However, one adjusts to the neck craning (but try to grab a premier seat in the first few rows).

Karr works his magic with a new arrangement for string quartet and harpsichord in the first piece, which is the Mozart one.  However, when the stage action starts, the music ends and the action goes on for quite a while like a stage play - more like sketch than comedy. This is a disappointment after enjoying so many great operas with wonderful singers by this company.


Pappas and Boyd are stellar baritones

The storyline is perfect for opera, but without the singing it seems way over the top. Why would POP do this? I later looked up the play and discovered that that is exactly how Mozart presented the piece! 

Pappas is the impresario in both pieces, which spoof the difficulties of mounting opera

So POP is being true to the original, while updating, translating into English and managing to get the dialogue about a frustrated and broke small opera director to sound much like Pacific Opera Project itself! 


Cast mashup: Salieri (L) vs Mozart (R). Pappas and Boyd have roles in each

In Mozart’s piece, there are many jokes about the opera world which are not that accessible to newcomers to the art. Dueling sopranos played by Karen Hogle Brown and Brooke deRosa finally arrive on the set as two divas being courted by an opera patron (played  elegantly by Christopher Anderson-West), and things heat up. 


Cox fervently embraces Pappas and Boyd

Mozart’s glorious music returns and all is well.  The two sopranos are charming and have lovely voices, but when they try to outdo each other, the sound is less than harmonious, which may be intentional but can be difficult to listen to.

Then came the Salieri piece, set in real 18th centrury time and costume, sung in Italian with helpful and clever supertitles. Andy Papas and Alex Boyd can sing!  Both are fabulous baritones! Their rich baritone voices filled in the substance to go along with the silly jokes and made for heightened fun! A similar plot pitting divas against each other is easier to swallow with the beautiful Italian lyrics and melodies. Wonderful costumes by Maggie Green.


Conductor Karr (L) and Pappas in baton-length contest

Then came Tracy Cox as Eleanora. Wow. What chops. She is a major talent, and she has performed at the LA Opera as well as being a graduate of the Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program. I could listen to her all day singing in Italian. (The competing soprano in the Salieri piece, Justine Aronson, is also quite talented and entertaining, it must be said.)

The Salieri is beautiful. All is right with the world.  POP is a genius.


Photos by Martha Benedict, courtesy POP

Georja Umano is an actress and animal advocate.


Seating is available for $20-$40. There is also the option to be “Emperor for a Day.” Patrons who would like to support this production in a princely way can purchase the Emperor’s throne for $500 ($420 of which is a tax-deductible donation). The Emperor and a guest will be seated in thrones near the stage and will have ceremonial duties for the evening while enjoying the very best in service and refreshments. A royal cape, crown, and scepter are also part of the deal!

Tickets for this production cannot be sold at the door and must be purchased ahead of time. Bottomless wine tickets are also available on-line for a mere $10.

More shows at POP !!

Purchase online at Pacific Project

Or call 323 739 6122


Friday, April 22 at 7PM

Saturday April 23 at 7pm

Sunday April 24 at 3pm


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