note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Beverly Creasey
"The Lisbon Traviata" is Terrence McNally's love letter to the world of opera and to the fabulous men who live and die with every performance.
Mendy, who admits to being "too much for most people" vamps around his apartment entertaining, in a gorgeous red, gold and black kimono (by Gail Astrid Buckley) which flaps its bright crimson wings whenever he raises his arms in supplication to "saint" Maria Callas. Mendy worships at he altar of grand opera, dishing with his friend Stephen about missed notes, vulgar productions and overweight divas --- and about which of Callas' "Traviatas" is better: the London recording or a pirated Lisbon tape. A dazzling portrait of the leading lady occupies a prominent place in Brynna Bloomfield's first act set.
While Mendy ansd Stephen argue in grand style about operatic trivia, McNally slowly works up a plot of betrayal and heartbreak as harrowing as any opera. After all, as Mendy says, "Opera is a matter of life and death."
Director Eric Engel's production crackles with metaphor, riding swifter than the Valkyries toward its tragic end. Engel's quartet of actors perform with operatic intensity --- with Neil A. Casey getting the theatrical equivalent of the big aria, describing Tosca's horror over Scarpia's dead body in hilarious verismo detail.
The only glitch in Engel's buffa production is the occasional mispronunciation --- which would drive an opera queen like Mendy (or me!)to distraction. (Of course, it doesn't matter to anyone else that Don Jose is a Spanish character in a FRENCH opera so the 'j' is pronounced like a 'J' and not an 'H' ...Oh, never mind.) Peter A. Carey's searing performance as the jilted lover, and Jason Schuchman's subtle portrayal of the usurper ---as well as Bill Mootos' likeable object of desire --- more than make up for the mistakes.
McNally states a magnificent case for all of us opera fanatics who "fall in love with the sound of [a] voice" and Lyric pulls it off with bravado, right down to the breathtaking (hauntingly sad) conclusion. Bravo.