Four-Note Opera

Opera with wicked wit, cutthroat characters

Editorial Credit: By Harriet Howard Heithaus of the Naples Daily News
Image Credit: Carolina K. Smith

If there’s room for a Minute Waltz, surely there’s a space for a “Four-Note Opera.”

If using four notes sounds stifling, stage director Tony Salatino will assure you — as will a listen to the patter on a YouTube selection from the work — that it’s not. If anything, American composer Tom Johnson set out to use the word structure as well as the minimalist note values to put across his comic tale of vocal rivalry. If you don’t know the plot, suffice it to say that Johnson, who now lives and works in Paris, has said it’s influenced by Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author.”

The one-act work requires some masterful acting as well as singing; no recitalists need apply.

“What I thought of was improv,” Salatino said. It’s his first time to direct it, and he find its story both an advantage and a challenge. Because “Four-Note Opera” is about opera singers, the dialogue suits their work perfectly. “They talk about motives, they talk about personality. One is unhappy about only having one solo.”

But the movement is what breaks down “the fourth wall,” between audience and players, and Salatino says opera singers aren’t necessarily attuned to that.

“At times, it feels like a vaudevillian piece. There’s a lot of physical activity,” he said. “With opera singers, their sensitivity to movement is not as great. That’s been the challenge — trying to draw out of them what they can do naturally.”

This group, he feels, has melded well into an ensemble.

Their work is done in evening dress, but with a good number of props that reveal the characters’ ambitions and frustrations.

“The story is focused on the singers and the process they go through for performance — what goes on behind the scenes,” he said.

Most of the stars in “Four-Note Opera” are stars in training here, and also will play in Opera Naples upcoming “La Traviata” March 18 and 20:

Francisco Bedoy a lyric-ligero tenor. He debuted in the role of Count Almaviva in “Barber of Seville” at the University of Michigan, and will play Gaston in “La Traviata.”

Jennifer Lindsay, soprano. Lindsay made her European debut last year in Prague as Donna Anna in “Don Giovanni.” She will play Annina in the Opera Naples production of “La Traviata.”

Ryan Hill, a baritone. Hill is a Florida native who performed in the Natchez Festival of Music in “Falstaff,” “Carmen” and “Francesca da Rimini” and in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “The Pirates of Penzance.” With Opera Naples, Ryan will play Barone Douphol in “La Traviata.”

Clara Nieman, mezzo soprano, who plays the contralto role in this work. She debuts in the 2015-16 season with Opera Naples as Flora in “La Traviata.” Nieman has sung Olga in “Eugene Onegin” in the Chautauqua Opera and Flora in “La Traviata” with Fort Worth Opera.