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Subject: three powerful world premieres prove opera perseveres:Wash Natl Opera's American Opera Initiative takes flight (11-19-12)
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Date:Tue, 20 Nov 2012 15:29:11 +0000

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Last night was indeed a memorable and notable evening at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater where a SOLD OUT crowd enjoyed three new twenty-minute operas 
commissioned and composed specifically for the Washington National Opera's AMERICAN OPERA INITIATIVE. The brainchild of outgoing Director of Artistic Operations Christina Scheppelmann (she 
heads to Oman this week where she takes over that new opera house), this new program has assembled a strong group of mentors consisting of Conductor/Mentor Anne Manson who led the chamber orchestra of ten for all three works, 
Jake Heggie as Mentor to the Composers and Mark Campbell as mentor to the Librettists. These folks along with Ms. Scheppelmann, Robert Wood of our local UrbanArias and the team at the 
WNO's Young Artist program workshopped the three works and presented them last night for our total enjoyment. I should note that this program will yield a full hour commission in June 2013 and will continue 
next year with similar endeavors to allow young composers and librettists the chance to hone their skills prior to heading on to larger commissions or more massive works they might be faced with in their futures. 

Music by Liam Wade 
Libretto by John Grimmet 

Ginger Taylor-Shantelle Przybylo 
Mabel McGinley-Julila Mintzer 
Seamus McGinley-James Shaffran (guest artist) 

Music by Scott Perkins 
Libretto by Nat Cassidy (based on the story by Lord Dunsany) 

Charon, Ferryman on the River Styx-Solomon Howard 
Woman-Maria Eugenia Antunez 
Wife-Julia Mintzer 
Husband-Yuri Gorodetski 
Business Man-Norman Garrett 

Music by Douglas Pew 
Libretto by Dara Weinberg 

Harriet Oshiro-Julia Mintzer 
Sylvia Bierbaum Alperstein Holtz-Shantelle Przybylo 
Jean Bierbaum-Maria Eugenia Antunez 
Dr. Steve Vergara-Mauricio Miranda 
Jerry Rosenberg-Norman Garrett 

Staging Consultant-Andrea Dorf McGray 

These three oh so very distinct works with oh so very different styles showed that there is a wealth of new composers/librettists 
out there with ideas, hopes, talent and most importantly the drive to get it on stage. 
PART of the ART had our vaudevillian actress, Ginger, on stage taking bows to her fans to a jazzy early 20th century vibe that quickly turned to 
light staccato as she sang "Men, Men, Men..." She is clearly a flirt and of course a coloratura soprano as such! 
Within moments the jealous woman arrives and we are treated to some hilarious turns in the libretto and the music as the wife, Mabel, even pulls a gun on Ginger and the first four notes of 
Beethoven's Fifth are heard! The two voices together were perfectly blended with Ms. Mintzer giving us some superb mezzo lows along with Ms. Przybylo stratospheric soprano. 
The duet ends with them finding the husband in a closet, but ultimate reconciliation between the married couple, only with Seamus sticking his head back in the door to tell 
the actress he will return the next night! 

CHARON was the most serious of the works but not without its light moments. It opens with a "lost" Business Man being beckoned into the boat by Charon. 
He suddenly realizes he has just died at a luncheon eating steak tartare! Charon proceeds to explain that the bothersome mosquitos are there to drain the memories from the dead. 
The constant buzz and slapping by some of the singers almost got on my nerves; it was ingenious as I started to itch and scratch! 
Charon moans how tired he is and that his arms ache but that he must go on forever. Mr. Howard's bass was ideal for this role with his bottom notes resounding through the theater. 
The Business Man ultimately says, "Thank You Death," but Charon insists he is not death, only Charon. 
Ms. Antunez intones mournfully in Spanish (I had to read the libretto to catch the meaning of this) of her lost son and how she killed herself to be with him in death; she can not find him here. 
A married couple moans of how they were in the airport and it seems something went wrong. Here the music is loaded with percussion (especially xylophone) and the cacophony of the damned 
arriving in huge numbers to the riverside. Then silence. 
A child arrives and says she is the last one to which Charon says, "there will always be more...any minute now." 
He is somehow wrong and it seems the god's plans have gone awry. 
The child has been ferried across and the music stops as Charon slaps a "mosquito" on his neck saying "Ow" the work ends. 
I think we were all quite stunned by the realization that everyone on earth was dead, the zinger of the original Lord Dunsany very short story this work is based on. 

The last work, A GAME OF HEARTS takes place in a Seattle retirement home called Sunset Terrace; it takes a while for this music to take flight. The start has three woman playing cards 
in a bit of a depressed mode. The doctor arrives to greet the new arrival, Harriet's old maid sister whose fiancee died in WWII. He inadvertently sets her off on a tizzy about him and this turns into 
amazing trio of the women remembering their war hero husbands, each with their own story. 
Mr. Rosenberg arrives and the doctor has just told us that his wife's cancer is incurable. Mr. Miranda gets the opportunity to blend in some amazing tenorial high B flats here! 
The women pounce knowing there might be a single man in the home soon, but there is 
an immediate attraction between the new arrival and we get a gorgeous duet from Ms. Antunez' Jean and Mr. Garrett's Jerry about how they must just move on with life whatever they are dealt. 
He leaves and the women return to their card game, which we know will never end in the boredom of Sunset Terrace as they wait for that evening's film showing. 

There was a wonderful Q&A for the mentors and three pairs of composer/librettists and we learned some wonderful information about the creation process and oh so much more. 
This is a great program and will hopefully be one of the great legacies that Ms. Scheppelmann leaves with us as her departure is indeed a sad one, so we must look to the future. 

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC 

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