Viva la Mamma!
Viva la Mamma! pokes fun at nineteenth-century Italian opera. The original title, Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali, can’t be translated; convenienze refers to conventional rules relating to the ranking of singers (primo, secondo, comprimario) and the number of scenes, arias, etc., that they were entitled to expect. The inconvenienze (“inconveniences”) include a demanding Prima Donna who refuses to rehearse, her pushy husband, an insecure German tenor who can’t master the Italian language, and an overbearing stage mother.
A small regional opera company is in the midst of a musical rehearsal for the new opera Romulus and Ersilia. The singers are feeling threatened by the attention being lavished upon the Prima Donna. Agata, mother of the Seconda Donna, comes to ensure that her daughter is given her own aria, and goes so far as to dictate exactly how the Maestro should compose it (Aria: “Lazzarune, scauzacane”). An argument about the billing in the opera’s program provokes Procolo, husband of the Prima Donna, to rise to his wife’s defense in the aria “Che credete che mia moglie.” The Prima Donna refuses to sing with the Seconda Donna, but Agata quickly brings the diva down off her pedestal (Duet: “Ch’io canti un duetto?”), exposing her secret that up until recently she was a mere chorister selling pastries to make a living.
One frustrated cast member quits. To keep the show from being derailed, the producers accept Agata’s offer to take over the missing singer’s role. The Maestro attempts to rehearse the duet between Agata and the Tenor, but her musical and vocal limitations provoke a fight, and the tenor quits (Trio: “Per me non trovo calma”). No worries; an eager Procolo is more than happy to step in, provided his beloved Prima Donna is granted her due.
The sextet that closes the act (“Livorno, dieci aprile”) begins with three separate conversations: the Maestro and the Poet are working through rewrites to accommodate the casting changes; Agata and her daughter Luigia, the Seconda Donna, are reading an insulting letter from an opera house that has offered to cast Luigia (provided that she leaves her intolerable mother at home); and Procolo and the Prima Donna are relishing in a negative review of another opera company. But these simultaneous conversations cause misunderstandings, and in the end the Impresario is forced to resort to violence.
The Impresario and Poet find that the stage has not been prepared for the evening’s rehearsal. While they frantically arrange the set and props, the cast begins to arrive, but the Prima Donna informs the Maestro that she needs rest and will not be singing the rehearsal. Agata’s opening solo does not go well (Romanza: “Assisa a piè d’un sacco”). With some gentle pleading and cajoling, the Maestro convinces the Prima Donna to rehearse her aria next. Her glorious singing brings new (albeit short-lived) hope to the production. Procolo does his best to get through his scene, but it proves to be too much for him.
Ultimately, the cast is informed that the production has been cancelled. The realization then hits. The Impresario has already spent much of his investors’ money, and the cast has amassed debts all around town. They all pick up and flee the city under cover of night.