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Subject: UrbanArias DC debut of LUCY leads us to wonder about the human mind and asks about animal cruelty (4-1-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 2 Apr 2017 07:12:20 -0400

text/plain (56 lines)

John Glover & Kelley Rourke's 2+ year old one-man opera entitled LUCY debuted in Washington last night after its world premiere in Milwaukee some 2-1/2 years ago. I knew that the opera was about a family that adopted a chimpanzee, but I was not expecting the amazing dramatic approach psyche this beautiful work delivers.

Maurice Temerlin-Andrew Wilkowske

Conductor-Robert Wood

Director-Erik Pearson

Sets/Costumes-Michael Locher

The work is divided into a prologue and three parts, but at 1 hour, it flows continually and is indeed a workout for the baritone who never leaves the stage and gets only a few rests.  Mr. Wilkowski indeed looks the 1960's college professor with jacket, sweater and tie and manages to embody this character not only as a person interested in doing a novel experiment (that goes wrong, and indeed is wrong from its inception), but also gives his character an almost tragic feel that he has embarked on a journey and cannot go back.

I knew little about the true story of the Temerlin family in Norman, Oklahoma that adopted an infant chimpanzee as their daughter in 1964 to raise her "as a human being" in an experiment that was all wrong before its conception. Apparently there were many of these studies done at the time (and still some today) as was explained to us in the Q&A afterwards.

On arrival the gray floor and rear wall were simple with a door in the back and a lot of furniture looking as if a hurricane had come through: a swivel chair (later used to great advantage as a sport for the chimp), boxes, overthrown lamps, a child's bed piled with boxes and a small wooden child's chair as well as a table at the rear with two slide projectors.

Dr. Temerlin enters in silence and places a cassette tape into a recorder and we are introduced to the voice on the reorder which is a scientist (assumedly that of Janis Carter) who ultimately removed Lucy from the Temerlin home and brought her back to Africa. We learn from the start that Lucy's relocation in The Gambia was ultimately a failure as she had been found dead assumedly the result of poaching or perhaps a fellow chimpanzee. There is an a capella prologue and then the five piece orchestra joins with music that is both moving and heartbreaking in what I can only call a series of scenes and vignettes moving from situation to situation as the chimp matures.

Some of them are intense, some funny such as "An ideal drinking companion" where Dr. Temerlin sings he can drink alcohol with Lucy kind of "man-to-man" but obviously not with his own teenage son. It is beautifully staged as he sits in the swivel chair "drinking" from a child's teacup set (we know it's bourbon as the bottle is in his hand when he enters at the start--which made me wonder if he became an alcoholic after this entire affair) as he faces a small teddy bear (with an arm torn off, clearly the result of one of Lucy's angry moments he sang of previously) seated on the child's chair.

Various projections show a chimp in the trees at the rear which are interspersed with the cassette recording coming on between some of the vignettes. The second parts begins with "No pets allowed" a tour de force aria that would work in any audition situation and here it truly showed off Mr. Wilkowske's bravura.  The ensuing "Tarzan fantasies" had a film clip of the actual movie playing on the rear wall and also showed what was supposed to be the Temerlin family playing with Lucy.

As the hour progresses, we realize the experiment has gone wrong, but there is no way to go back, and we know that ultimately Lucy will be sent away. In the climax of part 3, Temerlin becomes resentful and almost hateful and tears his tie off in an almost mad sweat at a total loss of what to do and how to proceed. His "daughter" has turned on him and he is terrified. This is shown magnificently by him actually turning the room that he so neatly organized at the start back into a devastated mess. He is wrecked.

I was completely moved by the pain exhibited by Mr. Wilkowske and felt so so sorry for this poor chimp that suffered due to the stupidity of mankind and our need to try and understand the psyche of everything. What was even more amazing was the fact that this opera did just that with no animal, not even a representation (save for the projections) that moved the audience so strongly. Add to this te fact that every word of the libretto came across clearly and concisely so that we all went on this tortuous journey. Our imaginations were enlightened and broadened oh so well.

The music is lush at times, even with just 5 instruments, and often tinny and tinkly due to one of the instruments being a toy piano which was a stroke of genius. During the Q&A one audience member asked if the toy piano represented Lucy and the composer said that the opera is written, now it belongs to you to interpret as you see fit. I loved that!

Lucy will be repeated again this afternoon as well as April 7 & 8 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in DC and tickets are available at extremely low prices for a new work that really should be seen and heard ( )

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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