Opera Theater Oregon does intriguing work. But is it opera?
This question gnaws at the core of Portland's scrappy young company. One voice of the company announces, "We're hip! We're edgy! We Keep Portland Weird!" The more somber voice responds: "Dude, we also perform beautiful music." The results, on display in OTO's wild and uneven new production, Muscle-Max , don't always sound so hot.
There are some basic attributes most sensible people want to see in any musical stage work aspiring to the throne of opera . Beautiful singing, impassioned characterizations, a certain sweep in the sound and surge of emotions might be among them. Little of that is found in Muscle-Max .
Instead, Muscle-Max offers a parade of outrageous '80s-era leggings and hair, campy dialogue and song lyrics celebrating binges on "Stoli, Cheetos…and lots of reefer," and strains of Gaetano Donizetti's score from his not bad 1832 opera The Elixir of Love , as filtered through an amplified chamber trio with wheezy upright piano.
This wholly new creation (book, lyrics and direction by OTO's Katie Taylor; musical arrangements by Eric Melton) takes interpretive liberties to an extreme. But before purists get up in arms about rewriting opera history, let me be clear: Taylor, who has talent, is not interested in defacing Donizetti's grave so much as dancing on it. Her cardboard characters from some 1980s Gresham mall are colorfully flat. Dave Nemorino (Zakk Hoyt) is the wiener-slinging hero pining after bracelet-bedecked Adina (Natasha Risotto), who harbors a wet spot for hunky Steve Belcore (Michael Miersma). Marty Dulcamara (Richard Poppino) pimps muscle-bulging supplements to Dave and Steve; Gianetta (Deb Vaughn) is a genial hanger-on, rawkin' the sideways ponytail.
The considerable demands of Donizetti's music are beyond most of the young cast, but Risotto's blooming voice shows promise. Of the rest, baritone Michael Miersma stands out as the hunkiest stud on any Portland stage this week, no question; he has a special talent for modeling cute jogging shorts and a certain fitted vintage KISS tee. Move over, Nathan Gunn!
Lovers of bel canto opera may leave disappointed. Fans of "fringe" performance may leave scratching their heads. But Belcore does give Nemorino a wedgie, and dude, that's pretty rad.
, Someday Lounge, 125 NW 5th Ave., operatheater oregon.com. 7:30 pm Saturday, 1 pm Sunday, Nov. 3-4. $10.