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Champagne and Candlelight is a company that’s serious about opera.

In past seasons they’ve brought us both well known pieces like Gilbert and Sullivan’s "Iolanthe" and Kurt Weill’s "Three-penny Opera," as well as lesser known works like Weill’s "Street Scene," a musical adaptation of Elmer Rice’s play by the same name.

Now, the company is digging into the positively obscure - "Zaide," an unfinished early work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and "La Serva Pedronna," a seminal but seldom performed work by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, an eighteenth century Neapolitan composer who wrote 13 operas including "The Maid as Mistress," most of which are lost, and lots of church music.

Both operas will be staged in the Chapel Theater at the First Unitarian Church with a minimum of props and scenery. Singers will be dressed in period costumes and accompanied by Taya Shumerina on piano.

The company’s founder, David Yin, an opera aficionado who has studied at the Mannes College of Music and the Opera Workshop, directs "Zaide."

"It’s about a sultan’s [William Heckel] favorite, Zaide [Mila de Costa], who tries to escape from the harem with her lover," Yin told GO Brooklyn. "She’s caught, but the Sultan pardons her and her lover because the lover turns out to have saved the sultan’s life 15 years ago." The role of the lover is performed by Yin.

The libretto was written by Andreas Schachtner. Mozart finished two-thirds of the opera before he was called to Munich to write "Idomenco," his first substantial opera. He never went back to "Zaide," and Champagne and Candlelight has further abridged the unfinished opera to a very manageable 35 minutes.

"La Serva Pedronna" is directed by Nick Titakis, who has performed off-Broadway, on national tours, in opera and in concert.

"The opera is way over the top farce," said Titakis. "There are only three characters, and only two sing." Those characters are a gentleman (Titakis), his maid (Kathy Titakis) and a mute valet (Paul Eisemann).

"The gentleman is a buffoon. His valet and his maid have him twisted around their fingers," Titakis explained. "He’s a miser and the maid is a spendthrift. He’s sure she’s sending him into poverty. He can’t decide whether to keep her or let her go. Then the mute servant gets the brilliant idea he will come as a prince wooing the maid so the gentleman will get jealous and propose marriage."

According to Titakis, "La Serva Pedronna" belongs to a body of work called congrega de rozzi, which means "group of fools" - work that was "lighthearted and spoofy and depicted peasants and farmers poking fun at each other." Congrega de rozzi began in southern Italy and was very influential in the development of commedia dell’arte.

When "La Serva Pedronna" was staged in Paris in 1752, it became something of a cause celebre because it was the first example of comedic opera and also because it depicted for the first time real people and not mythological characters, said Yin.

"It created a fervor," Yin said. "And it was directly responsible for [influencing] composers who followed, like Gluck and Mozart."

Champagne and Candlelight will be staging Pergolesi’s entire 50-minute-long opera, with only rudimentary scenery and props. Titakis says this production’s minimal scenery and the limited space of the chapel are representative of the way the opera was originally presented.

"The opera was certainly not performed in a theater when it was written," he said. "It was performed in homes or small concert halls."

Champagne and Candlelight performs Sept. 21 and Sept. 27 - 28 at 8 pm. The Chapel Theater is located at The First Unitarian Church, 50 Monroe Place at Pierrepont Street in Brooklyn Heights. Tickets are $15, $10 for seniors and students. For reservations, call (718) 596-3882.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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