In a most beautiful,
small auditorium, American Opera Projects presented six works for voice and,
I assume, orchestra. Of course, here the vocalists were accompanied by piano,
which was frustrating only insomuch as nearly all the works are strong enough
to gain full production, and some obvious orchestrations improvised themselves
in my head. I hope one day to hear these completed, with ensemble or orchestra.
Projects' next offering is a New York concert reading (November 21-22, 2008)
of the first opera by Broadway great Stephen Schwartz, a "psychological
thriller" called Séance on a Wet Afternoon, before its premiere
at Opera Santa Barbara in 2009. Meanwhile, here's a glimpse into the future:
& the Troll: Act 1, Scenes 1 and 2.
by Kristin Kuster. Libretto by Darla Biel.
Based on a children's
story, The Trickster & the Troll strikes that perfect balance which allows
a tale of migration to be simultaneously a tale of loneliness and of alienation.
The family's troll is told he must leave Norway to accompany the American-bound
son and his wife. The troll heaves great melismatic, forlorn and uncomprehanding
"Why?"s as the mother sadly sings, "Troll, Troll, I worry for
my children," piano rippling worry underneath the word. As the troll,
Robert Hoyt's voice rang deep and clear, as a troll should, with rich tone
and clear diction.
by Ray Lustig. Libretto by Matt Doherty.
idea for an opera, this. The Doctors' War is a true-life story of unaccepted
ideas; the doctor who discovered that washing hands can halt spread of disease
and his conflicts both with the medical establishment and with his wife, as
he uses the controlled environment of a whorehouse as his laboratory. Musically,
interest is immediately drawn due to what I can only describe as sonic (here,
a piano) waves of curiosity. There is much black humor built in to the story,
Brechtian sarcasms and some grand melodies. The weakness, for me, is the often-stilted
libretto, which neither reads nor sings as well as the music does.
A Chamber Opera
by Jack Perla. Libretto by Rob Bailis.
A humorous skit-like
take on romance and relationships, Love/Hate features lovely harmonies, and
some knuckle-busting piano during the "Seminar" scene, and a sheep
named, of course, Agnes. Ultimately, it felt more clever than moving.
Hadrian: Act 1, Scene 1
by Clint Borzoni.
opera opens with the question of whether, following Hadrian's collapse in
the Senate, his young lover Atinous would be given power, via adoption, as
Hadrian's heir. Being both political and romantic, this is perfect material
on which to base an opera. Borzoni demonstrates excellent art and craft in
his setting vocal lines using a most natural English speech patterns yet remaining
melodic, a rare feat. There is luscious duet writing, especially for the women,
and Jennifer Berkebile's powerful, focused soprano stood out in the role of
at the Clavier
by Andrew Staniland.
This is a song
sequence rather than an opera, using the Wallace Stevens poem. The music often
punctuated and commented on the text rather than underlined it. A mere few
keystrokes suggesting water. In this setting about love, spirit and death,
composer Staniland achieves the narrator's sensibility: "JUST as my fingers
on these keys/ Make music, so the self-same sounds/ On my spirit make a music
too/ Music is feeling then, not sound/ And thus it is that what I feel/ Here
in this room." Baritone Matthew Worth was exemplary in his clear yet
totally musical enunciation, the timbre made me think of the woodiness of
an acoustic doublebass in jazz; warm and rich. It would serve a baritone well
to include this work in a recorded or live recital.
'Paul's Case' : Scene 1: The Principal's Office
by Gregory Spears. Libretto by Kathryn Walat.
Mystery is present
from the outset, thanks to tolling notes opening Cather's classic story of
a young man expelled from school for vague and mysterious reasons. Paul pleads
his desire to stay, or to not stay, as a trio of schoolmarms gossip about
his queerness behind his back, and the Principal conveys his conflicting reactions.
Composer Spears cleverly uses the device of repeated phrases and variants
to second the ironies and conflicts within and between the characters. Most
excellent, perhaps the best of the six.