Glitter and flair: Queens of the Night

Glitter and flair: Queens of the Night

Martha Graham Cracker (Dito van Reigersberg) in Fauréplay, Opera Philadelphia, O18. Photo by Dave DiRentis for Opera Philadelphia.

A much-needed break from the weighty and profound operatic material that O18 as been tirelessly producing, Queens of the Night at the Theater of Living Arts was a hilarious and joyful breath of fresh air.

Tuesday night's cabaret, titled Fauréplay, was hosted by drag queen, Martha Graham Cracker. It is best not to overanalyze the production, as it was, for lack of better words, a wickedly entertaining opera-themed drag show. The evening's show followed a plotline involving Martha Graham Cracker's desire to impress her crush, Blythely Oratonio (Stephanie Blythe's drag king alter ego.) Throughout the performance, there were musical numbers, which were very clever arrangements, combining pop music with operatic motives (such as "I Want To Break Free" combined with "Quando m'en vo.")

Martha Graham Cracker (Dito van Reigersberg) in Fauréplay at the Theatre of Living Arts. Photo by Dave DiRentis for Opera Philadelphia.

Martha Graham Cracker interrupted songs to deliver hilarious monologues. Her commentary poked fun at the festival's theme, as she said, "Tonight we will answer the questions, 'what is opera,' and 'why is Cats a perfect example of the form?'" Martha Graham Cracker kept the audience fully engaged for the entire night. A brilliant sing-along involved the audience singing an ostinato pattern on a unison pitch using the word "remember," as the pianist quoted Beethoven's Op. 27 No. 2, and Martha Graham Cracker sang a solo line on top.

Virgil Gason, John Jarboe, Dito van Reigersberg, and Machine Dazzle in Fauréplay. Photo by Dave DiRentis for Opera Philadelphia.

Virgil Gadson's dance break was jaw-dropping, and an uproarious appearance by superstar soprano, Patricia Racette stood out. She was equal parts humorous and impressive. Racette played a character who was a voice teacher, and charged $200 for a 15-minute lesson. Those of us who have paid for lessons and coachings in New York City know about the painful truth behind this slight exaggeration. In her comedic routine, Racette displayed a mastery of pop style and still gave gems of inspiring truth. An audience favorite was, "Opera is not about perfection, it's about being transported." Before leaving, we were treated to a show-stopping "Milord."

Behind all of the glitter and flair was the inspiring performance of Daniel Kazemi, the production's music director. Kazemi's understated role was the perfect example of the multitude of responsibilities and talents that are expected of a modern-day music director. He served as pianist, conductor, arranger, actor, and back up singer, all while handling the fast changes and critical timings flawlessly. Kazemi's arrangements went beyond combining a pop song with an aria; He subtly interweaved instrumental operatic references throughout all works. If you listened closely enough, you could catch Puccini, Verdi, and Mozart all mixed into one highly energetic number.

Patricia Racette with Martha Graham Cracker (Dito van Reigersberg) in Fauréplay. Photo by Dave DiRentis for Opera Philadelphia.

At the end of the night, one could ask, "was that really opera?" We can respond to that with questions put forth by director John Jarboe, "Is an opera singer in a rock club singing Barry Manilow mashed with Tosca still opera? Once it's happening, do we even care?"

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Written by

Erik Flaten

Erik Flaten

Pianist, teacher, and Music Director, Erik Flaten was born and raised in Eastern Washington State. Erik has been heard as both a soloist and collaborative pianist in his native Pacific Northwest, as well as in major cities including Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York City.

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