Mosaic-Arts updates Mozart opera to 1950s/’60s

Barely a year old and already with more than two productions under its belt, Kelly Hutchinson’s Mosa

Barely a year old and already with more than two productions under its belt, Kelly Hutchinson’s Mosaic-Arts already has a reputation for doing a lot with a little. The company’s next opera is Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” set for Friday and Saturday at the University at Albany’s studio theater.

“Our first consideration was to keep costs low,” Hutchinson said.

The opera, which is one of her favorites, was updated to the 1950s and 1960s without a loss to the story.

“It’s not a huge change, since we concentrate on character relationships,” she said. “Only the dressing [costumes and sets] will change. It makes sense with the story and will be fresh for the audience.”

Costumes will come from performers’ own closets or older relatives. As for sets, Hutchinson said, the audience would have to fill those in with their imagination — something Mosaic audiences have already been doing. The opera also only has eight principals. Since Hutchinson likes to hire locally, she said, there was no trouble finding great talent.

Mosaic-Arts/Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday

WHERE: Studio Theater, Performing Arts Center, UAlbany Uptown Campus

HOW MUCH: $10, $5

MORE INFO: 442-3997,

These will include Vedrana Kalas, Rotterdam native Marco Cammarota, and Julian Whitley and James McAdams, both from Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre. However, because Hutchinson is always listening to singers, she found two who weren’t local: Sean Kroll of Chicago and Megan McCorkle Burks from Texas.

Backing up the cast will be the 25 voices of the university’s Chamber Singers, who work with David Griggs-Janower, and a pianist, cellist and mandolin player. It’s through Griggs-Janower, director of Albany Pro Musica, that Mosaic is even at this venue.

“We had been talking with David about how we wanted a good venue and about how Mosaic could maybe be in residency and supplement what the university is doing,” Hutchinson said. “So this year, Mosaic is the ensemble-in-residence and we’ll use their singers.”

But Hutchinson, who is the music and stage director for the show, wanted to change the palette even more.

“I wanted different movement that can be done on stage . . . to get away from the park-and-bark or stand-and-sing,” she said laughing.

Since the opera is three hours — one of the longest that Mosaic has done — pacing will be crucial, she said.

Devising dances

The visuals will change even more because Hutchinson asked Beth Fecteau, the artistic director of Nacre Dance Company, to devise dances appropriate to the updated time, to the story and to Mozart. That proved a huge challenge, Fecteau said. Her previous work with Hutchinson was for Baroque (Gluck’s “Orphee”) and an opera set in a nunnery (Puccini’s “Suor Angelica).

“With seven female dancers, I took popular dances of the period with hints of the bump, Charleston and others and put it in a refined way,” she said.

That works for the engagement party scene. Then, with a few men from UAlbany, she created a kind of minuet for the garden party in which the ladies will be wearing short cocktail dresses.

“It’s sassy,” Fecteau said.

She had to get surreal, however, for the finale’s hell section when Don Giovanni goes down in flames.

“I have dancers surrounding him and moving through space like wraiths,” she said. “They’re creepy in a pretty way as they claw at him.”

Fecteau spent a lot of time listening to the Mozart.

“I found the personality of each song was very different,” she said, adding that to develop a choreography, the music had to speak to her.

Hutchinson had no qualms as to what Fecteau would come up with.

“Beth is a genius. It will be 1950s style imposed on Mozart and she’ll make it look like it belongs in the opera,” she said. “And it will be new for the dancers to work with Mozart. It will expand their bodies differently and be interesting for the audience.”

Working within an opera context is new for Fecteau. When she founded Nacre in 2008, she wanted to revive the masterworks, such as dances by Isadora Duncan, that were rarely seen. She now has 13 women and two men in her company.

Future performances

Mosaic-Arts and Nacre Dance will also team up for performances of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio,” set for Nov. 18 through 20, at Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs. Besides four soloists and a 12-member choir, Nacre will present the dance that Charles Weidman/Doris Humphrey choreographed in 1961.

“This is the 50th anniversary of this historical choreography and we’re one of the few companies in the world who will be performing it,” Fecteau said. “It tells the story of the Nativity through modern dance.”

Hutchinson will up the ante, she said, by having the singers stationed throughout the Hall as well as having a live orchestra. More plans are in the works for a December production of Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany and Puccini’s “La Boheme” in May.

“The momentum is moving so much I’m afraid if I get in the way I’ll get run over,” Hutchinson said with a laugh.

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