Opera Laughs at Itself in Too Many Sopranos

Logan Buckley

Too Many Sopranos is a playful, comedic romp skewering classic tropes of opera. The show, directed by Sally Stunkel and musically directed by Daniel Michalak, focuses on the four eponymous sopranos: the melodramatic Dame Doleful (double-degree fifth-year Nikki Levesque), the catty Miss Titmouse (Conservatory junior Emily Peragine), the spear-wielding Wagnerian Madame Pompous (Conservatory first-year Elissa Pfaender) and naïve Just Jeanette (Conservatory junior Danielle Cheiken). The sopranos have died and must rescue male singers from hell in order to secure spots for themselves in the heavenly choir — there are simply too many sopranos as it is. In hell, the sopranos find rakish tenors, romantically frustrated basses and an imperious stage director with a little too much vision.

Though the chosen space, an Asia House lounge, felt cramped at times, the production used it well: the audience lined two facing walls, leaving a narrow strip down the center of the room for the singers. The physical closeness between audience and singers allowed some humorous breaking of the fourth wall — Madame Pompous continually asked audience members to hold her spear while she sang, and the Stage Director commandeered several audience members and gave posture advice to others. The tight space also allowed the singers to easily fill the space even when speaking — an important quality, as the opera is not sung through and includes a fair amount of spoken dialogue.

The opera runs the risk of becoming too high-concept, but a witty and self-referential style keeps it squarely in the territory of satire. Strong acting all around reinforced the parodies of stereotypical operatic characters, and strong vocal performances saved the opera from succumbing to the weaknesses it lambasts in other operas (although a couple of moments when all four sopranos are singing entirely different pieces certainly end up being a bit grating, the effect is quite intentional).

Peragine gave a standout performance as Miss Titmouse, handling her first aria with aplomb, especially given the subject matter — how high she is capable of singing. It is quite an accomplishment to sing an aria about how annoying sopranos can be while still delivering an enjoyable performance.

Too Many Sopranos is at its heart a satire and most of the characters caricatures, so its fast pace and overall focus serve it well. The show’s few missteps occurred when it strayed from poking fun at operatic tropes into other musical genres like gospel. Those moments, though out of place in the larger narrative and musical style, were still enjoyable and well executed.

The irony of the opera’s finale, in which the cast sang as an ensemble about how they’d never sing opera again, fit well with the show’s playful and self-referential tone, and acted as a perfect summary of the show’s ethos. Too Many Sopranos is a love letter to opera disguised as a parody of it.