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Subject: American Opera Initiative--3 more world premieres that truly previal(1-20-18)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 22 Jan 2018 12:55:06 -0500

text/plain (98 lines)

On Saturday night, the Washington National Opera continued its American opera Initiative with three world premieres of 20 minute operas which were all outstanding, each in its own way. One must first understand that the mentors conductor George Manahan, librettist Mark Campbell and composer Kevin Putts worked for some time with the teams of composer/librettists and also along with the help of program director Rob Ainsley chose the teams as well. Somehow this year, the three couples seemed to be simply perfect for each other. I have excerpted the plot lines from the program below and make my comments underneath. The stage had the orchestra of 13 to the left and rear with a space for the singers and music stands at the front. The performers acted in a semi-staged mode beautifully directed by Anrea Dorf McGray and also wore period costumes. The same string curtain from Proving Up was at the rear again beautifully lit and colored by A.J. Guban.

A Bridge for Three
Three figures are about to hurl themselves from the Brooklyn Bridge--inventor and daredevil Jimmy James in 1897, Wall Street tycoon Roland Archister in 1929, and teenage runaway Molly in 2017. All have their different reasons for this leap into the unknown, and all discover that life is more than it sometimes appears.

Nathan Fletcher
Megan Cohen

Eliza Bonet
Jimmy James
Alexander McKissick
Roland Archister
Michael Hewitt

The watery feel from flute and strings pervaded for Mr. Fletcher's gorgeous music giving us a feel of the river below as the trio "Overhead in blue skies..." got the evening off to the most lyrical of moods. AT one point the music went to a staccato bass almost tango as Jimmy(based on a true character) donned his wings. mr. McKissick's coloratura laughing built and built to a huge tenor climax "so now I fall..." and we move through a xylophone and flute interlude to the second figure which Mr. Hewitt portrayed as a truly confused victim of the stock market crash. Ms. Bonet's Molly, "Just gimme a minute..." writes a suicide note saying she is sorry as she seems unsure of her decision.

"So now I fall" returns as a trio and we realize that Molly & Jimmy have survived their falls by landing safely on the riverbank. The work ends with Molly singing, "How did I live, how will I live now..." ending with emphasis on "live."


Fault Lines
In an upper-middle class suburb of New York during the Second World War(1942), racism, classism, and abuse lurk beneath the surface of this family’s daily life, spiraling out of control as dark secrets come to light and threaten all their existences.

Gity Razaz
Sara Cooper 

Laura Choi Stuart
Eliza Bonet
Alexander McKissick
Michael Hewitt

The second work had more emphasis on the plot and libretto and was indeed a much more timely piece in that the Japanese maid was here abused by her employer (the local mayor) and then he confronts her saying that he has the power over her to have her jailed and deported to which she responds, "I'm American!" This got a rousing amount of applause and even after the wife seems to side with her husband and accuse Kyoko of having an affair with him, she still must defend herself, "I was born here..."

It is clear she has nowhere to go, "All the darkest secrets of this house..." is an impassioned plea to Grace as another woman which at first seems to gain her some ground, but ultimately Kyoko decides she must leave the house for good. Ms. Bonet's staid 40's wife (grey skirt and jacket) is so stuck up we just knew she might break and she calls her husband as she demands the truth. In an amazing avowal, Ms. Stuart's piercing high soprano is repeated three times amidst the loud percussion: "He raped me!"

Ms. Bonet responds "Suddenly it's unclear which one of us is under attack" and as the women console each other the husband arrives and proceeds to call the police claiming Kyoko is a Japanese spy. The poor woman begs just to go, but Mr. Hewitt's baritone bellows "her body is a weapon..." Their teen son enters, grabs the kitchen knife and Kyoko seems to almost knowingly run into it declaring "I'm innocent" as they all repeat her words as she dies.

The music here, for me, was the least memorable, but this plot sure resonates today!


Precita Park
How do we find peace within chaos? In the aftermath of the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, Lilah and her four siblings move in to their new home--a tiny Earthquake Shack in Precita Park. All have experienced loss in their way, and her brothers and sisters are bickering over every little thing--where the beds will be placed, who gets the best one, who snores the most. Searching for stillness and calm in the midst of all this chaos, Lilah reaches for a copy of Thoreau’s Walden…

John Glover
Erin Bregman

Laura Choi Stuart
Alexandria Shiner
Eliza Bonet
Frederick Ballentine
Michael Hewitt

Here we have 5 siblings all bickering over their new, even if temporary, accommodations. Lilah is the eldest and even though the work begins with a family quintet, she ultimately spends much of the work in her gorgeous soprano composing a letter to a friend (I really got the feeling it was her lesbian partner). The staging here was brilliant as the other four siblings fought over beds, space and more in their one room, even with no set or props! There were many comic elements as well and the "kids" antics did get plenty of laughs; Mr. Ballentine especially seemed to be the perfect bratty youngest brother. As they all blame each other for the earthquake, "It was his/her fault!," he responds cattily, "It was San Andreas' fault." Ultimately their bickering seems to fade into the background as Ms. Shiner sings on completely ignoring her siblings to dream of Walden, the perfect future. Beautiful music here with a simple plot that we could all relate to made this another perfect work in a simply perfect even of tryptich operas!

Kudos also to Young Artist pianist Paul Jarski who was at the piano for all three operas in an orchestra that Maestro Manahan led with aplomb.

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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