Sunday, June 14, 2015

Guest blogger Ed Beveridge has been at it again!

Season opening at opera Holland Park, June 2015

Il Trittico (Puccini) – Opera Holland Park, June 2nd 2015
Flight (Dove) – Opera Holland Park, June 6th 2015

Opera Holland Park could no longer be described as London’s best kept operatic secret, since its publicity machine is sophisticated and active, but unlike the other summer festivals in the UK, it is one of the most accessible. The performances happen on a temporary but robust stage and auditorium built in front of what remains of Holland House, in the middle of London's Holland Park. This summer the company presents five mainstage shows and one show for children. Repertoire is a mix of popular classics and collector’s items, mainly from the early 20th century Italian repertoire.

Suor Angelica at Opera Holland Park
Photo:  Robert Workman

This season is perhaps one of the most diverse yet. Later on we have Aida, Lakme and Montmezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re. The first two shows neatly top and tail the last century—Il Trittico had its premiere in 1918 in New York, and Flight at Glyndebourne 80 years later. Quite different pieces and brave choices both, and happily the company scored not one, but two great successes.

Il Trittico is a fearsomely demanding work even for the best resourced company. The combination of canny casting, strong direction and first class music making makes the evening way more than the sum of its considerable parts. Holland Park wisely opts for a traditional aesthetic—by which I do not mean unimaginative—and in so doing brings a complementary view of the pieces to the more interpretative productions London has seen in recent years. 

The productions are by Martin Lloyd-Evans (Il Tabarro) and Oliver Platt (Suor Angelica, plus revival director for Lloyd-Evans’ Gianni Schicchi). Designers at this venue must take account of a potentially awkward space with a wide, shallow stage and no fly space above. Neil Irish uses versatile common scenic elements, but there is no attempt to make links between the three operas which are not present.

Ironically Il Tabarro’s midnight Parisian skulduggery takes place during the lightest part of a sunny London evening. A stage-wide realistic barge with quayside arches behind thrusts the action right out towards the audience. (One of the pleasures of this festival is how close the orchestras and singers are to the listener.) It looks to be set around the time of its premiere – the “lovers” who appear at points look like a first world war soldier and his girlfriend - and the pervading colour is grey, appropriate for the characters’ impoverished existence on the waterways of France. In her first role of the evening Anne Sophie Duprels, a diva-in-residence at Holland Park (and elsewhere in the UK) was Giorgetta – a Georgette from this French soprano, surely? Attired in a plain housecoat, cardy and skirt, she shows vestiges of her former, carefree existence, alongside flashes of searing pain when her dead child is mentioned; her resentment for her husband Michele is as vivid as her passion for the stevedore Luigi (the imposing Jeff Gwaltney, returning after Fanciulla last year). And what a clever soprano she is – it’s a lyric voice, punching far above its weight in this repertoire, but making it work; now throaty, now gutsy, the money notes present with a healthy high C. Michele is Stephen Gadd, whose careworn, grizzled husband becomes something far more dangerous as the opera progresses, sung in a baritone which begins rather grey but grows in stature as the opera progress. Had Luigi’s feet not been visible from under his cloak, we could have had a more gripping finale, but it was a strong start to the evening nonetheless.

Suor Angelica was the shattering centrepiece of this production. Traditional? Sort of, although the setting took us to Ireland and the Magadalen Laundries. Precious little redemption to be had here, in a regime where the young “novices” are subjected to constant abuse and humiliation. It’s a neat and valid interpretation of the piece, with the young women ruled over by a Badessa and Suora Zelatrice with precious little grace and plenty of venom. Irish’s set, again grey but beautiful, created an eerie sense of time and place, and Platt’s direction had some telling details – Angelica’s forlorn reaction when a delivery boy tries to play ball with her but is taken away, for example. I’m not sure the cruelty of this setting is quite present in the score, but the sheer impact of the ending – no redemptive vision of Angelica’s child, but an agonizing death – hits home with terrible force. 

Anna Patalong Richard Burkhard in Gianni SchicchiPhoto:  Robert Workman
Duprels returned as Angelica. Her performance was gut-wrenching. She is a singer who gives and gives, tiring slightly towards the end but turning the dramatic screw til the last. Again it was the intelligence of her singing—such scrupulous dynamics—which impressed as much as the technique. Her Angelica was a spirited, strong woman, whose defiance as she looked her aunt in the eye made her final collapse all the more shocking. As her aunt, La Zia Principessa, Rosalind Plowright, a notable Suor Angelica in the past, returned to a stage where she is much loved. She was no stiff psychopath but a proud, conflicted woman, full of guilt and unable to bear Angelica’s distress when she finally reveals the terrible news of her son’s death. Some wayward intonation apart, she can still pack a vocal punch. There was a charming Genovieffa from Johane Ansel (she was also one of the lovers in Il Tabarro) and a fine supporting cast.

After being put through the emotional wringer of Angelica’s laundry (sorry), Gianni Schicchi was a rich dessert, although one with a grown up flavour (think bitter chocolate with a liberal slug of liquor). The production is set around wartime, judging by Rinuccio’s uniform. Again, broadly traditional, although wickedly well directed, treading a fine line between slapstick and subtlety, and doing so by and large successfully. Richard Burkhard’s Schicchi is oily, charming and uncommonly well sung, eschewing pantomime geniality in favour of sinister but irresistible charm. Anna Patalong’s golden-voiced Lauretta scores with “O mio Babbino Caro”, whilst James Edwards (back from his cameo in Il Tabarro) is appealing as Rinuccio. No weak links in the cast but special mention for Sarah Pring’s campily venomous Zita (she was also an appealing Frugola in Tabarro) and Aled Hall’s bright Gherardo.

This was a long evening which did not seem so. Pacing was one of the many virtues of Stuart Stratford’s expert conducting, creating lucid textures and near perfect ensemble in what must be a tricky acoustic. He is shortly to become Music Director at Scottish Opera but has remained loyal to Holland Park. 

A word, finally, about Flight, since in my previous post I promised a review. From the “boarding passes” and airport announcements that greeted the audience in the foyer, to the dazzling production, this was a gamble that paid off thanks to a fine musical performance and a superb cast which brought the piece leaping—flying?—off the page in a way I have rarely seen.

George von Bergen and Kitty Whately in Flight
Photo:  Financial Times
Stephen Barlow’s production is wonderful and dare I say even more enjoyable than the original by Richard Jones. Andrew Riley’s set was a sleek, aquamarine arch of airport with three elevator doors and a tower for the Controller. It was transformed by the lighting—disco purple for the conga of the Act 1 ensemble, deep blue for the night in Act 2. There were evocative projections of weather radar, storms and, appropriately, an aircraft climbing into the clouds for the finale. Against this backdrop Barlow judiciously used extras to create crowds at some key moments, full of priceless detail (I love that the passenger boarding a plane with skis in Act 1 returned on crutches in Act 3), which in turn emphasized the intimacy and loneliness in other scenes. There was farce (Bill and the Steward’s scene, “We’re so high!”, was a riot, and had the Steward scouring the trolley for snacks throughout Act 3); and searing tragedy—the Refugee’s chilling aria describing his journey, stowing away under an aircraft with his brother, was far more compelling than I remember it before.

I suspect this was at least in part the result of James Laing’s gloriously rich, penetrating, communicative counter tenor which gave Dove’s lines such immediacy. The Steward (George von Bergen) and Stewardess (Kitty Whately) were a scream, whilst Tina (Ellie Laugharne) and Bill (Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts) were an older couple than when the piece was premiered, and made it work; dead ringers for Linda and Richard in Duty Free , for which cultural reference I apologise if you are not from the UK or of a certain age. Victoria Simmonds—who created Pinocchio in Dove’s very different opera some years back—brought proper gravitas to Minskwoman’s aria, “Whose bag is this?”. The standouts, apart from Laing, were Lucy Schaufer’s warm Older Woman—her music theatre credentials meaning every tart one-liner came pinging across the footlights—and the young Jennifer France whose performance of The Controller was little short of sensational; in full command of the stratospheric lines and of her enigmatic, misanthropic character.

The score, under Brad Cohen, sounded wonderful and I was delighted that both Jonathan Dove and April de Angelis were present for a curtain call. A wonderful evening and another huge success for the company.

Opera Holland Park, the mouse that roared. You just keep on getting better.

There are a few performances of Il Trittico and Flight remaining plus new productions of Lakme (Delibes), Aida (Verdi) and L’amore dei tre Re (Montmezzi) – www.operahollandpark.com

Flight:  Set design by Andrew Riley
Photo:  Robert Workman

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My Bachtrack Review of Charlie Parker's Yardbird at Opera Philadelphia

Lawrence Brownlee as Charlie Parker
Photo:  Dominic M. Mercier
Opera Philadelphia is clearly doing something right with its American Repertoire Program. Begun in 2012 with co-productions like Nico Muhly's Dark Sisters(which I found brilliant), and Kevin Puts' Silent Night (2012 Pulitzer Prize winner), the program has earned Opera Philadelphia great praise for helping keep new opera alive. An Opera News quote in the program states the company is “one of the leading instigators of new work in the country”. Judging by the scarcity of empty seats on Sunday for the second performance of Daniel Schnyder's Charlie Parker's Yardbird, I'd say that must be true. This is the second “new” opera I've seen this season in Philadelphia, and Opera Philadelphia's first world première since 1976. It has completely sold out.

Read the whole review

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Guest blogger Ed Beveridge reviews ROH's beloved Copley La Boheme production

Addio, senza rancor - La Boheme at the Royal Opera House, London, May 23, 2015

Nothing lasts forever, and John Copley's much loved production of La Boheme has done sterling service for the company since it was new in February, 1974. Copley’s successor will have their work cut out. Rumour has it that it will be Richard Jones (whose Il Trittico demonstrates an aptitude for Puccini) and his sideways view will produce something quite different. Probably for the best. Rumour also suggests the Copley will be mothballed, not junked, but we shall see.

Jennifer Rowley as Musetta in ROH's La Boheme
Photo:  Bill Cooper, ROH
May 23 was the start of a long run of farewell performances. It’s a popular production of a popular piece—this performance the 614th at the Royal Opera House. Clearly each revival needs to be special, and for these performances there is a mostly new cast with Copley himself directing and taking a well deserved curtain call at the close. Copley’s direction is naturalistic and detailed, subtle and skillful (it's not easy to direct the characters in the Act 2 crowd so that they both appear naturally and can be spotted straight away). Direction this understated but this good is rare.

With lesser performers, the evening could easily have been all about the production, which is absolutely beautiful. The late Julia Trevelyan Oman's designs seem definitive, traditional without being monumental or showy, intimate when they need to be. The colour palette is muted and earthy. The loft of the outer acts uses split levels to frame parts of the action and create effective entrances and exits. The interior and exterior of Act 2—the Cafe Momus with its steaming kitchen, the busy street outside—give way to the austere Act 3 city gate, queasy greenish sky and romantic snowstorm.

Joseph Calleja and
Anna Netrebko
Photo:  Bill Cooper, ROH
The cast was mostly new, but with familiar elements. Joseph Calleja's Rodolfo is a known quantity and he was on good form here, much better than his Gustavo in the disastrous Un Ballo in Maschera earlier in the season; not quite at his best though, and underpowered at times in this company. His characterization was straightforward and touching. Straightforward would not be a good description for Anna Netrebko’s Mimi. As ever she is utterly compelling to watch and hear and there was nothing routine about this performance. She was no shrinking violet, but neither was there Diva-style mannerism or affectation; she was almost ghostly in Act 4. It’s a big voice for Mimi—nothing wrong with that—and her basic sound is beautiful, smoky and complex. There was plenty of detail in her dynamics and phrasing. I don’t think she will be singing Mimi for much longer, as she gravitates towards dramatic soprano repertoire, so I am glad to have heard her score such a success here.

The second couple were American. Lucas Meachem is becoming a firm favourite at this house and his burly Marcello looked and sounded handsome, his disbelief at the end Act 4 very touching. Musetta was Jennifer Rowley, making an overdue house debut. She gave notice of an important singer—brassy and comic (and a dab hand at billiards) in Act 2, moving and sincere later on, delivered with a bright and ample soprano of which I would be happy to hear more.

It wasn’t all good news. The rest of the cast I found competent, but unremarkable, and the conducting of Dan Ettinger has some serious flaws, mainly around ensemble with the stage. I wondered at first if this was first night nerves or lack of rehearsal but as the evening went on it felt more of a fundamental failure to follow his singers. A great shame to find oneself wishing Pappano had been at the helm. Still, this was a great and in some ways historic night at Covent Garden, and Copley’s show is being given a fine send-off. Best of all, my goddaughter, who had never seen any opera before, had a ball and can’t wait for the next show. Definitely Addio, senza rancor.

*** 
Further performances with this cast before conductor Alexander Joel and singers Lianna Haroutounian, Piotr Beczala, Ekaterina Bakanova and Levente Molnar take over. Until July16th. www.roh.org.uk


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Come Fly with Opera Holland Park – Introducing Jonathan Dove’s Flight

by guest blogger Ed Beveridge

First, I will admit that Jonathan Dove’s 1998 opera Flight has particular personal significance for me (I saw it the same night as I met my partner and happily the rest is history), so I have a special affection and admiration for it. Since it forms part of the Opera Holland Park’s season in London this summer I am taking the opportunity to spread the word about it and will also be back to write a review.

Flight, Glyndebourne 1998
 - Nuala Willis (Older Woman), Anne Mason (Minskwoman),
Richard Coxon (Bill), Mary Plazas (Tina),
Christopher Robson (Refugee)
Glyndebourne, Mike Hoban
Flight is unusual, not just because it is one of very few operas set in an airport but also because it is a contemporary opera which has established itself in the modern repertoire in a way others have not. Its wonderful premiere production by Richard Jones was also seen in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Australia, and there have been other professional productions in the USA, Germany, and the UK. Interestingly Opera Holland Park’s production will be the first professional London production. Others have been by student or young people’s companies. It is a brave departure for a company usually associated with established classics and rare verismo.

Dove created the opera with a libretto by established British playwright April de Angelis. It is based in part on the true story of an Iranian refugee who lived for many years in one of the terminals at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport. He is the inspiration for the Refugee, the character at the centre of the work (sung at OHP by James Laing) who, it emerges in the course of the opera, escaped his country of origin by stowing away in the undercarriage of an aircraft with his brother, who died in transit.

The opera, in three acts, takes place across two days. A group of travelers are brought together when electrical storms ground all flights, leaving them stranded overnight in the terminal. During a truly operatic, stormy night they, along with the unnamed Steward and Stewardess, disclose their stories. Relationships are formed and changed. Morning brings a birth – again, not a common occurrence on the operatic stage – and departures begin once more. The Refugee is left alone with the other airport character who frames the action, the mysterious Controller - “encased in glass, First Class, enchantress”.

De Angelis’ libretto is highly skilled, treading successfully a path between bawdy comedy and serious drama, and her characters are developed in depth. She has an ear for the lyric stage, too – “Luggage left alone, unloaded, will be immediately exploded” announces the Controller.

Dove’s music develops the drama in a deft and mercurial way. Its contemporary nature need frighten nobody, as it is highly accessible, mixing musical styles and using thematic material and different instrumentation to portray his characters, building to a truly grand operatic climax in the “take off” of the third act. His style is reminiscent of others both in the classical and music theatre idiom (John Adams and Stephen Sondheim spring to mind), but is nonetheless distinct, rarely simply derivative. Listeners will notice his witty use of familiar airport and “holiday” sounds in the orchestra, along with the marimba (and the rest of a fully stocked percussion section), all of which create a unique sound world. His vocal lines, too, are memorable, particularly for the other-worldly Refugee and Controller, written originally for counter tenor Christopher Robson and coloratura soprano Claron McFadden. Dove’s innate gift for communication through music perhaps explains how his work continues to appeal to a particularly broad audience, including children.

I hope Londoners and those from further afield will take the opportunity to become acquainted with this wonderful piece. I understand seats are still available for their production which opens on June 6 for five performances only (see picture) with a cast of established performers (Lucy Schaufer, Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts, Victoria Simmonds) and rising stars (Jennifer France, Kitty Whateley, George von Bergen).

I also understand that there are reduced price available for under-30s so readers - please alert any young people who may be interested in a very special night at the opera – including those who have never experienced the art form before.

Flight opens on June 6 at Opera Holland Park.  For more information - box office 0300 999 1000, boxoffice@operahollandpark.com or www.operahollandpark.com

Monday, May 4, 2015

Parisian courtesans in Fort Worth! Call the National Guard!

On Sunday I saw my third opera of the Fort Worth Opera Festival, Mr. Verdi's beloved La Traviata. After the very disturbing Dog Days and the unattractive update of Hamlet's setting, this sumptuous traditional production of one of my favorites was balm for my weary soul. Sets and costumes were by Desmond Heeley, and “sumptuous” just begins to describe the luxurious look of the first three acts and the faded luxury in the last act.

Patrick O'Halloran, Rachelle Durkin, and company
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
In the opening party scene one is first impressed by what a good time everyone seems to be having. This was no stand-and-sing operatic party scene, but one where the guests interrelated, chased each other across the stage, allowed themselves to be caught and molested, and I do believe I saw at least one face slapped. I might be imagining the last part, but wouldn't have been surprised to see it! For this I credit director David Gately and a very spirited chorus and group of supernumeraries. The chorus, prepared by Chorus Master Stephen Dubberly, sounded great in spite of all their frenetic activities. It's very unusual for me to lead off with the chorus and the director before mentioning any of the principals, which should be an indication of the strong impression made by the first scene.

Rachelle Durkin as Violetta
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
Not to suggest the chorus outshone the principals. What is La Traviata without a great Violetta? In Rachelle Durkin we had quite a stunning actress and singer. Although her voice is light for the role, in my opinion, she negotiated its demands very well. (Her web site lists a very wide range of roles, from Marie in Fille du Regiment to Donna Anna.) Again I must credit director David Gately and Miss Durkin's acting ability for convincing me that "Sempre libera" is a cry of desperation, not defiance. She dares not hope for the love that Alfredo is offering, and her tears as she sings about living just for joy are real. In Act II, Miss Durkin's scene with the elder Germont had this bitter old critic in tears.

The elder Germont was sung very beautifully by Nicholas Pallesen. He played Germont in Act II as a manipulative jerk (stronger language comes to mind) who conveys just the right affectionate words and actions to get what he wants. Another skillful touch that I credit to Mr. Gately. Violetta believes his shallow, seemingly insincere gestures of paternal love, and the contrast in how the two understood what was occurring contributed greatly to the tears I mention above. (In his defense, Germont does seem genuinely remorseful and loving in Act IV. Just before Violetta dies.) Mr. Pallesen's singing is rich and even and powerful—just what one wants from a Verdi baritone.

Patrick O'Halloran and Rachelle Durkin
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
I regret that I can not report in such glowing terms on the Alfredo of Patrick O'Halloran. Although I reported in these pages in 2013 that I liked his singing in Glimmerglass Opera's production of King for a Day—when he got warmed up—it almost seemed as if he never got warmed up as Alfredo. His sound is somewhat veiled, occasionally yell-y. Although many of his top notes were nice, the upper middle and passaggio area bothered me. Mr. O'Halloran was the only principal who seemed at odds with the conductor's baton. He seemed to be throwing about new ideas about tempi the conductor knew nothing about. I will add, however, that in both King for a Day and in the present La Traviata, I have no complaints about his acting. The young man does know how to throw himself into a role.

Many small roles were populated with Fort Worth Opera Studio Artists. Clara Nieman was a spirited Flora, and Maren Weinberger a very concerned and devoted Annina. Brian Wallin was a devoted and somewhat puckish friend to Violetta as Gaston. Matt Moeller was an appropriately angry Baron Duophol. (I look forward to seeing Mr. Wallin and Ms. Weinberger as Glimmerglass Young Artists when I visit that festival in July.)

Once again Joe Illick deserved the shouts of "Bravo!" for his leadership of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in conducting this performance. Once again I praise his sensitive phrasing, his loving way of following singers, and his stylistic instincts. Mr. Dubberly and his chorus again deserve high praise.

Director Mr. Gately and the design team of Mr. Heeley, Steven Bryant (makeup and wigs), and Chad R. Jung (lighting) also deserve high praise. I might question Germont's Act II costume, which didn't seem to fit him at all, but otherwise the show was visually stunning.

Nearly every element of this show deserves praise, and I recommend without reservation seeing the final performance on May 9.

All is not well in Denmark

On my second night at the Fort Worth Opera Festival, I saw Thaddeus Strassberger's new production of Hamlet, that neglected 1868 opera by Ambroise Thomas to a libretto by Michel Carré and Jules Barbier, based on the Shakespeare play. In keeping with Opera Comique tradition and requirement for a happy ending, the original version concluded with Hamlet being crowned king instead of being killed, but it didn't take long for a version true to the original Shakespeare to emerge. Fort Worth presented the later version.

Talise Trevigne and Wes Mason
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
The singing in this production is beyond compare. Wes Mason was a Hamlet not to be trifled with. Commanding and yet brooding in appearance, fully committed to Hamlet's heartbreak and rage, and able to convey all the heightened emotion with highly skilled singing that one wished would never end. His tone is even and free throughout, beautiful to hear, with an easy high voice that suits Hamlet's music very well. The drinking song "Ô vin, dissipe la tristesse" and the monologue "Être, ou ne pas être", two highly contrasting scenes, were both beautiful and passionate, and Mr. Mason's commitment to the text and character were abundantly clear.

Talise Travigne, who has graced these pages before, sang and acted a stunning Ophelia. She was vocally dazzling from beginning to end—high notes, agility, tone quality and evenness of scale were exceptional. Her acting was believable as she experienced Ophelia's turbulent and conflicting emotions. The mad scene was a feat of singing and acting that will long live in this reporter's memory.

The Gertrude of Robynne Redmon and the Claudius of Kim Josephson were also a treat. Mr. Josephson was every bit the pompous but guilt-ridden king. The scene in which he expresses overwhelming remorse for his heinous acts, and begs his brother's soul to intercede for him with God, was very moving. Ms. Redmon was excellent as Gertrude, who sees how her acts result in her son's anguish and yet is terrified that the crime will be discovered.

Fort Worth Opera Music Director Joe Illick and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra deserve high praise for their performance. Sensitive phrasing, cohesive ensemble playing, and warm, lush sound are the impressions this reporter takes from the performance. Chorus Master Stephen Dubberly and his chorus deserve high praise as well.

The setting was updated to some indistinct, crumbling Cold War era city, and the date appeared to be about 1960. I've written before that I don't like updated opera settings. The usual intention is to clarify social roles and power structures, but I've rarely seen that happen successfully. Usually the update offers more distraction than illumination. This production of Hamlet has not changed my feelings on the matter, for distraction there was in abundance: Why were those peasants huddling in the periphery? Why so many uniformed guards with guns? Why was Ophelia wearing heels instead of flats on a picnic? Did I learn more about any of the characters or their relationships from the pretty costumes by Mary Traylor or the sets of Mr. Strassberger? I'm afraid not.

There is one more performance of Hamlet, on May 10. For the singing I highly recommend seeing it.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fort Worth Dog Show

Lauren Worsham as Lisa and John Kelly as Prince
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
On Friday night I was fortunate to see Dog Days, a new opera by composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek, at the Fort Worth Opera Festival.  Dog Days was first produced in 2012. The story is of a family trying to stay together and preserve a normal life as the country is thrown into chaos by war on U.S. soil. There is no work, and food consists of a box of rations abruptly dropped from a helicopter periodically, along with whatever they can forage. For all practical purposes the family is trapped in their very traditional home, for travel to escape the city is impossible, and there is little reason to even go outside. They cling with differing amounts of desperation and rationality to the idea of staying together as a family. The hymn-like grace the family sings as if on auto-pilot at every meal gives pathetic evidence of the emptiness of their lives from the beginning, and grows more ragged as the family grows more desperate. Kudos to Mr. Little and director Robert Woodruff for that and a thousand other details that added up to a riveting show.

The family is accustomed to beggars at their door for what little food they have, but the appearance of a man who costumes himself as a stray dog and acts more like a dog than a man incites surprisingly strong and diverse reactions from the family members. Howard, the father, is enraged by the appearance of the dog-man, while Lisa, his daughter, is at first repulsed but then finds in the dog a good listener and even a friend. She names the dog Prince.

Marnie Breckenridge and James Bobick
Photo courtesy Fort Worth Opera
I call myself a bel canto bear, and I've written before that I'm not qualified to evaluate new music, but I must say I liked this opera. Critic Jeffrey Edelstein writes in the program: "While the music is energetic and amplified—a cloisonné of rock and Broadway vernacular held within outlines formed from classical styles—it conveys the feeling of traditional operative recitative and aria." The chamber ensemble Newspeak, under conductor Alan Pierson, were a sometimes subtle, sometimes raucous accompaniment to the singing and acting on stage. The sound design of Garth MacAleavey also played a very important role.

I can not praise the performers highly enough! James Bobick as Howard was gruff and desperate in his attempt to maintain normalcy and family life. His vocal lines sometimes showed that desperation with extreme high range, but his singing was never unpleasant or "yell-y", and in fact was quite beautiful most of the time. Marnie Breckenridge was equally outstanding as the Mother, who cooks and cleans and feeds her family like an automaton. When she allows herself to feel she is paralyzed, only able to move in reaction to her family's needs or orders. Also a very fine singer, Ms. Breckenridge sang the often but not always lyric lines of her role beautifully.

Lauren Worsham as Lisa
Photo: Fort Worth Opera
The real star of the show was Lauren Worsham as the young daughter Lisa. With two older brothers who keep to themselves and parents overwhelmed by their own lives, Lisa has a very lonely existence, so she welcomes the dog as a listener. She reminds me of Anne Frank at times. Lisa has extended monologues in which she reveals her deepest thoughts and feelings, which Ms. Worsham sang and acted with amazing dexterity and beauty. Lisa's mirror aria, in which she exults that starvation has finally allowed her to achieve beauty, was a marvel both in Ms. Worsham's performance and in the audience experience. Lisa's actual reflection is projected on a screen as she carries the mirror about. The audience experiences an uncomfortable level of intimacy with Lisa. (Projections by Video Engineer Eamonn Farrell are used just as effectively throughout the show.)

John Kelly was remarkable in his portrayal of the dog. Always on all fours except in his last moments, he acted and reacted as a dog always. His simple but mangy-looking costume of tattered pants and furry shirt (all costumes were by Victoria Tzykun, and his wig was by Anne Ford-Coates) added to his dog appearance and character.

The cast is rounded out by Michael Marcotte and Peter Tantsits as Elliott and Pat, the two teenage boys. They are up to no good, of course, and at one point are brought home by the Army Captain played by Cherry Duke. All three were worth watching and hearing.

I regret there is only one more performance of this amazing opera, on May 9. If you haven't seen it, I would urge you to go.

Postscript:  When I saw the show Friday night I was thinking analytically.  When I wrote this review and posted it, I was thinking analytically.  When I later told a friend about the show, I couldn't talk about it without tears.