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Subject: Wash Natl Opera American Opera Initiative intrigues with three worthy world premieres (1-14-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 15 Jan 2017 12:40:31 -0500

text/plain (77 lines)

Last night the WNO continued its mini AOI Festival with the premiere of three 20-minute operas that were all quite worthy and indeed quite memorable. I have copied not only the casting from the program, but the summaries so you can have a better idea of these wonderful works.

Music by Matthew Peterson
Libretto by Emily Roller 
Three refugees are stranded in an inflatable lifeboat out in the open ocean; they are the sole survivors of a shipwreck. After three days, tensions erupt between the strangers, who each fled the same conflict for different reasons. As their pasts are revealed, cooperation--and survival--seem unlikely. Lifeboat explores and challenges the ideals of courage, social justice, and service; can these ideals overcome major divides between people of different backgrounds and experiences? Can we all live in the same boat? A JFKC Commission.

The Professor: Andrew McLaughlin
The Soldier: Raquel González 
The Doctor: Daryl Freedman 

Music by Zach Redler
Libretto by J Douglas Carlson
Adam is the story of the creation of the world's first sentient artificial human. Mirroring the spirit of President Kennedy's launch of the U.S. space program, Adam's creator Athena seeks her goals "…not because they are easy but because they are hard" (JFK). She does so in the service of science and of her country…but is there justice in creating a being with free will for a purpose that he did not choose? Will Athena have the courage to stand by Adam against forces that would own his destiny? The ideals that inspire these questions would be as essential in such a future as they are now and as they were in the Kennedy era. A JFKC Commission. 

Adam: Frederick Ballentine 
Athena: Raquel González 
Colonel Grey: Andrew Bogard

What Gets Kept
Music by Frances Pollock
Libretto by Vanessa Moody
Amy, suffering from a terminal illness, has decided to pursue death on her own terms with medical assistance. While her teen daughter faces the situation head-on, her husband seeks to buy the family more time together. Embracing its unique blend of dark humor and deep compassion, the family navigates the difficult tasks of grieving for a living person and finding peace in the aftermath of loss. What Gets Kept champions the ideals of courage and creativity as the family interacts with death in brave and inventive ways. Harnessing the ideal of community, the family must balance the needs of the individual with those of the whole. A JFKC Commission. 

Amy: Daryl Freedman
Emma: Jennifer Cherest
Lawrence: Frederick Ballentine

Conductor/Mentor-Steven Osgood

Composer Mentor-John Musto

Librettist Mentor-Gene Scheer

Director-Andrea Dorf McGray

For these performances there were sets and the singers were allowed to use music, but this was never bothersome.

Ms. McGray did an amazing job with a few props and masterfully took us to three so different locations: at sea on a raft, a laboratory in the future and a family home.

Again the singers were excellent and gave some truly impressive performances especially when the music got intense and they ahd the chance to do some character development. An yet again we were treated to the lush 13-member orchestra under the baton of Maestro Osgood, who seemed to have known these works forever as he mouthed every word, even though he was behind the singers and was never serving as a prompter!

Lifeboat begins with a short scene amidst the madness of the sinking boat and then moves to the three survivors on a lone raft.  "Remain Calm" is reiterated as the words from the life support manual they have, but this is clearly not what they are intended to do. Quarrels arise and each of the characters gives us a hint of where they are coming from, although not everything is revealed; I wanted to know more.

When they fish up a dead child from the wreckage, Ms. Freedman, as the Doctor, chants an amazing aria, "Another body..." as if she were doing her job completing a death certificate. It was the first of oh so many moving moments throughout all three works. Ms. Gonzalez, as the Soldier, follows with a ranting aria, "Have you never seen your own child die..." giving us much insight into her background. We know the Professor, beautifully intoned by Mr. McLaughlin, has a family, but unfortunately 20 minutes does not give us the opportunity to delve further. A floating trio ends the work, "If only we were birds..." and I was hoping this work will be repeated, hopefully with an ending.

Adam was the only work that I had heard music from the composer prior, and Zach Redler delivers with beautiful melodic lines. Each of the singers had extended pieces in which to show off and really excelled. Again the work is unfinished and we don't know what happens to the artificial human, Adam, but are left wondering if he will become a killer as the army colonel clearly wishes to do.

The final work was perhaps the most resonant and largely due to the subject matter which easily can touch anyone who has lost someone close to them. What Gets Kept gave Daryl Freedman a second chance to excel as they dying Amy with her "I could spend my next tomorrows...," a solo that could be impressive in any audition or competition! The work really cuts deep and indeed at times I was teary eyed having gone through hospice with both my parents over the last decade. Ms. Cherest was an impressive teen who ultimately grows up and Mr. Ballentine returned  to excel as the loving husband unsure of how to deal with it all. As the three pieces were indeed stand-alone, this one seemed to have an ending and was more well-rounded and complete as really was the perfect culmination to an evening of three such excellent premieres.

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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