Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Wonderpets Save The Nutcracker

Gli animali domestici di meraviglia conservano il schiaccianoci”, a light operetta in one act, score and libretto by Josh Selig.

Scene 1: the one-room schoolhouse, day.

The operetta opens on a rustic schoolhouse as the children are departing for the day. The schoolroom, decorated to the typical standards of a late-twentieth-century American rural classroom, is tenanted by the three class pets: Linny the Guinea Pig (Sofia Zamchicka, alto), Ming-Ming the Duckling (Danica Leia, soprano), and Tuck the Turtle (Teala Donato, tenor). The animals are performing common domestic pet activities when the tranquility is interrupted by the ringing tin-can-and-string telephone. The lyrical festivities begin with the delightful partita “Il telefono sta squillando” (The phone is ringing):
Linny: " Il telefono, il telefono sta squillando! "
Ming-Ming: " Il telefono, we' il ll è immediate là! "
Tuck: " Il telefono, il telefono sta squillando! "
Linny: " Ci è un animale nel di difficolta!”
Ming-Ming: " Ci è un animale nei de diffiqwolta!”
Tuck: “Ci è un animale nella difficoltà in qualche luogo! "(Linny: "The phone, the phone is ringing!"
Ming-Ming: "The phone, we'll be wight there!"
Tuck: "The phone, the phone is ringing!"
Linny: "There's an animal in trouble..."
Ming-Ming: "There's an animal in twouble..."
Tuck: "There's an animal in trouble somewhere!")
Linny, the leader of the group, explains the situation in the recitative “Un schiaccianoci” (The Nutcracker):
Tuck: "Un schiaccianoci è bloccato in un tubo de gas!"
Ming-Ming: "Ciò è sew-wia!"
Tuck: "Dobbiamo aiutare il lei"
Linny: "Lascili conserva il schiaccianoci!"
Tutti: "Lascili conserva il schiaccianoci!"

(Tuck: "The nutcracker is trapped in a gaspipe!"
Ming-Ming: "This is se-wious!"
Tuck: "We have to help her!"
Linny: "Let's save the nutcracker!"
All: "Let's save the nutcracker!")
With that, the classroom animals perform the “Transformation Dance” and become The Wonder Pets, donning their costumes and assembling “The Flyboat” from common classroom items.Boarding the flyboat they take to the skies with their anthem “We' con riferimento agli animali domestici di meraviglia!” (We’re the Wonder Pets!)
Tutti: "Animali domestici di meraviglia! Animali domestici di meraviglia! Sciamo sul nostro senso, per per aiutare un schiaccianoci e conservare giorno! "
Ming-Ming: "Siamo non troppo grande, "
Tuck: "E sciamo non troppo duro, "
Tutti: "Ma quando lavoriamo insieme sciamo ve ha ottenuto il roba di destra! Vada, domandi gli animali domestici! Yay! "

(All: "Wonder Pets! Wonder Pets! We're on our way
To help the nutcracker and save the day!"
Ming-Ming: "We're not too big,"
Tuck: "And we're not too tough,"
All: "But when we work together we've got the right stuff!
Go, Wonder Pets! Yay!")
Scene 2: A gaspipe, Moscow, day. The Wonder Pets arrive to find the nutcracker trapped in the gaspipe by the evil Mouse King, with a dangerous pressure building up behind him and an explosion immanent. This is expressed through Ming-Ming’s solo ““Ciò è seria” (This is serious). Suddenly, the Wonder Pets to rescue the nutcracker they have to work together. They reprise their earlier song “Lavoro di squadra!” (Teamwork):
Linny: "Linny,"
Tuck: "Tuck,"
Ming-Ming: "E Ming-Ming, too."
Tutti: "Siamo animali domestici di meraviglia e we' aiuto del ll voi! "
Linny: "Che va funzionare?"
Tutti: "Lavoro di squadra!"
Linny: "Che va funzionare?"
Tutti: "Lavoro di squadra!"

(Linny: "Linny,"
Tuck: "Tuck,"
Ming-Ming: "And Ming-Ming, too."
All: "We're Wonder Pets and we'll help you!"
Linny: "What's gonna work?"
All: "Teamwork!"
Linny: "What's gonna work?"
All: "Teamwork!")
Linny performs a grand jete putting the boot to the Mouse King, the nutcracker is saved, the sugar plum fairies appear out of nowhere to give grateful thanks to the Wonder Pets for saving their friend. The Wonder Pets celebrate with a celery snack, which the fairies insist on preparing with tea in a genuine Russian samovar. All celebrate with the riotous dance “Ciò richiede sedano” (This calls for celery). Exchanging goodbyes, the Wonder Pets then fly back to the classroom, singing:

Tutti: "Animali domestici di meraviglia! Animali domestici di meraviglia! Abbiamo trovato un senso, per per aiutare un schiaccianoci e conservare giorno! "
Ming-Ming: "Siamo non troppo grande,"
Tuck: "E sciamo non troppo duro,"
Tutti: "Ma quando lavoriamo insieme sciamo ve ha ottenuto il roba di destra! Vada, domandi gli animali domestici! Yay!"
They wordlessly return to their cages and the Flyboat smoothly disassembles by itself. Linny is the last one to get back in her cage while the tybalium that played during saving the day is played. Linny takes a bite out of the celery in her cage and blinks and...


A satisfying juvenile rendition of the Christmas chestnut as rendered in anipomorphic drag: Zamchicka, a young Hungarian mezzo-soprano is lithe. She does not have a large voice but is a rare, real and very centered Linny. Hers is the sort of sultry mezzo Tchaikovsky wrote for. And, given that this is a children’s show, she also turned the smallness of her sound (small but hardly tiny) to advantage. She phrases like a singer of chansons. She has a deliberate style, careful with pitch, rhythm and text. She is able to vocally convey meaning between the lines of the libretto. Passion could be awakened in this temptress, although it took time to overtake her self-possession.

Donato proved a reliable Tuck, stiff as a turtle shell most of the time. Danica Leia, as Ming-Ming, brought a measure of sweetness and cream. As the Nutcracker, Raymond Aceto sang to the crowd (in the audience, not the crowd on the stage), but what’s a Nutcracker to do when dressed like a nightclub entertainer and also asked to perform when stuck in a gaspipe for 9/10ths of the role? The PBS Children’s choruses managed to sing well even when they looked quite confused. Flyboat flight scenes were phony. Gerardo Trotti's set of Moscow/Fairyland reminded me of the bar at the Russian Teahouse on Tualatin Highway.

Otherwise, the PBS Operetta production is notable for its musical efficiency and jerky CGI animation. Emmanuel Villaume competently moved things along. The conductor alternated between aggression and offhandedness, but he did take pains to achieve supple playing from the orchestra. The entr’actes were lovely.

Rebroadcast Sunday, Dec. 16 at 8pm.

(Hopefully this gives you an idea of the last three below-freezing shut-in days - for the Peeper it was Star Wars, for Little Miss, Caillou and the Wonder Pets. After the third (fourth) viewing of this thing I was ignoring the content and focusing on these Wonder Pet episodes as operetta for toddlers; they have all the right ingredients, especially dialogue almost entirely in song. So I came up with the idea of a post about the WP as an opera review. Presented with the deepest apologies to operaphiles, balletomanes and especially my daughter Maxine, who, no matter what "naughty Daddy" says, loves the Wonder Pets)


Red Sand said...

Hmm - if you're heading into a few more days of this, the situation may become dire indeed...

FDChief said...

RS: Gets worse. I hear that there's a "Berenstain Bears Christmas" out there somewhere.


You Know Where You Are With said...

Ems is a HUGE Wonderpets fan, too. (Although Oswald is her current fave...)

She hasn't seen the Nutcracker episode yet, though...

but we use the teamwork theme all the time with her to reinforce...what the TEAM wants her to do.

Meghan H said...

Tell the in-laws the kids are theirs to watch for the rest of the week and get the HELL out of Dodge for the day.

I'm just waiting for enough snow to cross-country ski around my neighborhood...that's going to be my escape if we ever get a snow day at my office.

FDChief said...

"but we use the teamwork theme all the time with her to reinforce...what the TEAM wants her to do."

YK: in the words of Edmund Blackadder, you're as cunning as a cunning fox appointed Dean of Cunning at Cunning University. Clever.

Little Miss is still VERY much a team player. But she's developing a big thing for Caillou, which I'll discuss at a later time, that has made her as forceful and willful as any young woman in love.

Meghan: Good advice. I'll do as best I can...

Lisa said...

That you access Blackadder tells me you are sound, at core. I sympathize with your place in the madding crowd.

I hope you request a reprieve to sit at a coffee shop and stare silently out the window for a silent catharsis.

Publius said...

I'll be attending a performance of the Nutcracker on Christmas Eve in San Francisco. Somehow I doubt I'll enjoy it so much as you've enjoyed this. And will enjoy it again and again and again. And that's this year. Wait'll next year. And the year after. And the year after that.

Years ago, I learned that if one must live in snow and ice country, one must ensure suitable stocks of scotch and malt beverages are always at hand. Beer is really easy. You don't even need an extra refrigerator. Just keep it outside.

You must retain your sanity for the sake of those cute little rugrats. Yeah, the very ones who will do everything in their power to make you lose it.

Good luck from a graduate.