Photo Courtesy of Victorian Lyric Opera Company and Capital Fringe
After creating an opera based on Stephen King’s novella “The Mist” in 2012, Sean Pflueger wanted his second opera to be a comedic farce.
Teaming up with Laura Fuentes to write the libretto, the two created “Do Not Disturb,” which will have a special preview performance at 8 p.m. June 29 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville before heading to the Fringe Festival for five performances– July 9, 13, 17, 19 and 23–at the Sprenger Theatre in the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, D.C.
The opera centers around junior attorney, Ethan Rosenblum, who calls out sick from his job to take his girlfriend, Emma, on a romantic trip in order to pop the question. His boss and firm partner, George Rosenburg, is headed to same resort to meet his mistress, a judge who is trying his current court case. Rosenburg is also driving his niece, Roxanne, back to college, and his wife has asked her to spy on Rosenburg’s extramarital activities and get her evidence for the divorce case. Since the inn’s front desk employee is always on his phone, the guests get placed in the wrong rooms.
“We like to say compromising situations and mistaken identities lead to a comedy of operatic proportions,” Fuentes said. “We wanted to make (the show) relatable to a modern audience, but also specifically to a D.C. area audience. Our characters — they are overworked lawyers and long suffering partners. They are ambitious people trying to get ahead and there is a question of work life balance that keeps coming up so not only is it an opera really geared toward modern audiences, but I think there is a very specific D.C. tie-in with a lot of these characters.”
Pflueger has been drawn to music and the stage since he was young. He recalls being angry when his third-grade class did not do a school play while another third-grade class did. He would later join the school choir and has pursued music ever since. A bass-baritone, Pflueger has performed as a soloist and chorister with multiple D.C. area companies.
Composing came from his love of crafting narratives. “Telling a story through music is what motivates me to perform,” he said. “It is also what motivates me to write. I think of ideas for an opera, and I want someone to do it.”
Fuentes recalls being cast as the narrator in her kindergarten class’s musical about dinosaurs. “There were only two people in the class who could reliably read out loud at that point and I was one of them,” she said. “I had a very loud, authoritative voice for a 5-year-old.”
The musical started her on a path to theater, which also includes performances with D.C. area companies. “It really just gets in your blood, I think,” she said of performing. “Live theater is a lot of fun. You can build a community with the people you work with, and it becomes a big part of your life and who you are.”
Pflueger and Fuentes first met during a Victorian Lyric Opera Company (VLOC) production of John Phillip Sousa’s operetta “Desiree” in 2007. Since then, they have worked together on various productions around a half a dozen times.
The idea for “Disturb” came to Pflueger about four years ago, who also stars in the show as Ethan. While he adores creating the music, he wanted a librettist. He asked around unsuccessfully for several years until Fuentes agreed to give writing a try. “I loved her take on the characters,” Pflueger said. “Laura didn’t create the story, but she enhanced the story so much. It’s been really wonderful.” Fuentes adds, “It’s been really fun to do this with Sean. This is not something I have ever done before or ever thought about doing before, and it’s incredibly motivating to work with a partner.”
Carla Rountree, VLOC’s head of marketing and board member, said when the pair approached the company about mounting their opera, company officials already knew both were very talented and fantastic to collaborate with, having worked with them before. “Part of VLOC’s mission is to provide educational and performance opportunities for our community, and putting on the world premiere of an opera is a really unique opportunity to do just that,” she said. “And although VLOC sticks to operatic works from the Victorian era, fortunately, we have an alter-ego arm called The Forgotten Opera Company that performs operas from other eras. So it was a pretty easy decision to have The Forgotten Opera Company take on ‘Do Not Disturb.'”
Pflueger enjoyed writing musical jokes. “It was so much fun to figure out ways to tell something musically with humor,” he said. “I hadn’t done a lot of that. My last show was dramatic, and this one is funny. I’m so happy that it is funny. The jokes still make me laugh.”
Fuentes liked the collaborative process, from working with Pflueger in the initial creative stages to discussing scenes with a director and watching actors interpret the roles during rehearsals. “Seeing people actually do your work is the best thing in the world,” adds Pflueger. “…To see the music and the words and the story come to life for the first time is awesome.”
The two plan to collaborate on additional shows. “I want us to become the next Gilbert and Sullivan,” Pflueger said. “I want to have loads and loads of shows.”