Le Gran Scena Opera Company 

LA GRAN SCENA OPERA COMPANY

If the idea of men running around in women's costumes singing the female roles in Carmen, Il trovatore, and La traviata makes you think "bad drag show," La Gran Scena Opera Company will set you straight. This gender-bending comedy troupe doesn't just burlesque grand opera and its divas; it honors the artistry of opera even while lampooning its excesses. The New York-based touring ensemble's fine singers perform under such names as Anne Sofie von Gerbil, Helena Handbasket, Raquelle Scandale, Gabriella Tonnoziti-Casseruola, and Vera Galupe-Borszkh, aka La Dementia (and in real life the company's founder, operatic vocal coach Ira Siff). The "ladies" bolster the nonstop sight gags with discriminating musicianship and first-rate falsettos, whether they're storming their way through "The Ride of the Valkyries" or strutting their stuff in the evening's encore, a Nashville medley. The company has a few unambiguously male members too, among them Boris Pistoff, Fodor Szedan, and Alfredo Costa-Plenti (who changed his name from Alfredo Sorta-Pudgi after he lost weight on the Renata Scotto diet--light meals and heavy roles). Doing for--or to--opera what Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo does for dance, La Gran Scena made its most recent appearance here four years ago; since then the group has hired an African-American diva--Kavatina Turner, who will take the title role in a selection from Aida (Verdi's version, not Disney's). The company's emcee is, as always, Sylvia Bills ("America's Most Beloved Retired Diva"), whose madly malapropian commentary makes audiences see even the most familiar operas in a whole new light. La Gran Scena's four-night engagement culminates with a benefit for In All Things Charity, a Christian gay advocacy program headed by the Reverend Gregory Dell of Broadway United Methodist Church. Thursday through next Saturday, February 24 through 26, 7:30 PM, and next Sunday, February 27, 2:30 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; 312-902-1500. Sunday's benefit matinee will be hosted by WGN radio personality Dean Richards.

ALBERT WILLIAMS

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Milazzo.

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