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What is it? The inaugural (one might say pilot) performances of what promises to be a refreshing new addition to Charleston’s cultural scene.

Why see it? The fourth wall finds a new way of being broken in the Charleston Chamber Opera’s premise for Pilot Season. Or at least stretched, turned, and made into a Möbius strip. Take Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone, link it to Lee Hoiby’s Bon Appetit! as “a play within pieces,” and treat the whole as actors and crew filming a pilot for the new television season. Now say that three times, quickly. Featuring Lara Wilson, Patrice Tiedemann, Tami Swartz, and Timothy Lafontaine, Pilot Season could prove to be just the link to draw the Big Brother and Rock of Love crowd into something a wee bit more edifying.

Who should go? This talented new troupe seems bent on opening up what they see as an “untapped niche” in Charleston’s arts landscape. And pretty much everyone falls into that niche in some way or another.

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $10-$25 • 2 hours • June 4-6 at 7:30 p.m. • Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St. • (888) 374-2656

Lights, Camera, Action: Television inspires the Charleston Chamber Opera’s latest

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A suitor, bent on proposing marriage to his beloved, gets thwarted by technology until he decides to use that technology. Julia Child bakes a chocolate cake. Miss Manners dispenses advice on how to behave at musical performances. Julia Child keeps on baking that cake. A man, along with his wife and mother, ruminates on the continuing nature of their conflict; from purgatory. Oh yeah, did I mention that Julia Child will bake a cake?

All this and more will come to life during Charleston Chamber Opera’s inaugural performance at the Circular Congregational Church. According to the company’s founder, Lara Wilson, Charleston Chamber Opera’s goal is to “make opera accessible,” not only to the already confirmed opera lover, but also to a more general audience.

To this end, our talented troupe has crafted a “light, humorous, fun, and not so stuffy” live mix of several chamber operas tied together by acting to show how opera need not be “just about good music, but also good acting.”

Our bill of fare for the evening draws deep from the well of English language chamber opera. Kicking the evening off, Miss Manners on Music, by Dominick Argento, culls actual letters and answers from the career of Judith Martin, focusing on behavior at musical performances. It’s quite tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a pointed way to begin a musical performance. I wonder what Miss Manners would have to say about cell phones at musical performances?

Most familiar to Spoletians new and old should be Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone, a frustratingly funny romp through the dangers of love thwarted by technology. At least until one gives in and uses that technology to one’s advantage, that is. It’ll be interesting to see how this work from the late 1940s plays in our attention deficit age of the cell phone and BlackBerry.

Thomas Pasatieri’s The Women may provide a bit of balance to all the evening’s levity. Wilson has promised they will play this one straight, yet the premise sounds like the set-up of a really good joke. A man, his wife, and mother are in purgatory together. Now if we could only find a punch line! Seriously, this opera presents a surrealist study on the nature of conflict.

Also on tap for the evening is Lee Hoiby’s Bon Appetit! With a “libretto” taken from transcriptions of Julia Child, is a plot really necessary? But, a plot it has, revolving around the baking of a chocolate cake. Sounds delicious.

The thread weaving these disparate works together lies in the title of this production, Pilot Season. Each of the operas will be performed as if they were being filmed for inclusion among the upcoming season’s new television shows. Between each opera our intrepid troupe of singers/actors will be performing as the actors who’ve just finished the “pilot” getting ready for the next one. Digging through the layers of actors acting as actors leads one to the heart of Charleston Chamber Opera: Mezzo-soprano Lara Wilson, soprano Patrice Tiedemann, soprano Tami Swartz, and bass/baritone Timothy Lafontaine. But acting credits will abound, involving not only the CCO members, but also the production crew. Even the production’s stage manager has lines. And that’s the real genius of this amalgam. Opera is fun, and Charleston Chamber Opera appears bent on proving it.

If you’re interested in delving into the world of opera, yet have been frightened off by notions of its gravity, this show should dispel those fears. If you’re already a bona fide opera nut, this show provides a remarkable range of works presented in a novel fashion that begs to be repeated and expanded. And if you just need a good laugh, well, Julia Child will be baking that cake!