Saturday, August 21, 2010

I can't make up a headline more catchy than the opera's title

Today I saw a performance of The Pig, the Farmer, and the Artist, part of the New York Fringe Festival, which I suppose is now called FringeNYC. Music and libretto are by David Chesky. I haven't written about opera by living composers before in this space. In fact, it's not that common for me to write about opera performed by living singers. I was intrigued by this opera, however, because of the catchy title, and because it afforded me another opportunity to hear one of the singers, whom I'd heard sing quite beautifully before in an opera that much better suited my late 18th-century ears.

The story of the opera is as old as time itself. Reformed hooker heifer (heart of gold is an interpretive matter) and her transvestite bull husband escape the abattoir and an amorous farmer by running off to the big city--in this case NYC's East Village--with a hapless artist, and in a cynical maneuver become much more successful in the art world than their artist friend. There is also a pig with what can only be described as a flesh-colored garden hose long enough to jump rope with--literally--growing from his codpiece.

I can hear your sighs: "How many times must I hear that same story retold?!" Your intrepid reporter found himself sighing during the course of the opera himself, but this was accompanied by furtive glances at his watch to see how much longer it would last. I don't mean to say I didn't enjoy the show. I actually did very much. I think I'd have enjoyed it more were it a bit shorter. The opera was very clever in ways both new and derivative (*sighing* "Oh yes, they did that in Urinetown, didn't they?"), but I don't think the story or the writing supported the length of the opera.

All of the cast members worked hard and were fully committed to their characters and story. The biggest standout is the has-been heifer ho. (I can't resist little bons mots like that. Sort of like it seemed the composer/librettist, Mr Chesky, threw in a few too many clever bits.) Mezzo Wendy Buzby showed a beautiful voice and fine musicianship, as well as a platinum bee-hive wig. She was an udder delight. (I'm so sorry!) The farmer, bass-baritone Cory Clines, sang and acted very well the part of the perverted farmer. I hesitate to describe just how perverted for fear of action by PETA. The Greek chorus of Ami Vice, Megan Marino, and Steven Uliana certainly were fit! They adapted to their multiple characters (various farm animals and Manhattan archetypes) with ease and alacrity. Mr. Uliana, in particular, impersonates a chicken very well. Soprano Melanie Long also quite successfully sang and acted her multiple characters.

With many of the roles in this opera, one had the feeling the vocal writing wasn't executed in a way that featured the voices at their best. Having heard Mr. Clines before, I must say that this role didn't give him the opportunity to shine as he can, and I know the same must be true for Ms. Buzby and many of the other singers. In fact, I can make the broad generalization that in nearly every case, the writing for men's voices didn't suit the highly capable men who were singing the roles. James Kryshak as the Harvey the bull and Christopher Preston Thompson as the artist were two pretty darn good talents, delights in their roles, not allowed to shine as singers.

Would I recommend this opera? Certainly. Would I sit through it again? Not on your nelly!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for branching out and writing about something new--I enjoyed reading it!

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

I find it interesting that this opera is still alive and kicking. So, I guess many people recommend it. Cool.