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Subject: Opera Maine's "Three Decembers"
From: "G. Paul Padillo" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:G. Paul Padillo
Date:Wed, 11 Jul 2018 23:16:29 -0400

text/plain (65 lines)

Just returned from OperaMaine's production of Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer's chamber 
opera, "Three Decembers."  As I wrote ten years ago of the broadcast premiere of the 2008 
revision, the negative reviews made little sense to me:  

". . . ungrateful music that lies awkwardly" for the voice; and a score while "threatening to 
break into melody - never really does."   

The music sits in the "sweet spot" for many singers, so "awkward" seems an odd way to 
describe it.  As to melodies, the score is bursting with so many, it has more of a Broadway 
Musical feel to it than an opera.  There are (intentional or not) moments that, while not 
derivative, certainly recall Menotti's early efforts, Bernstein and Sondheim.  

As with the Houston premiere, the Portland audience responded throughout, and set in 
intimacy of the St. Lawrence Arts Center, John Sandling's bare bones production a few 
props and enormous marquee-style lit up numerals:  l"1986" "1996" and "2006" pulled the 
audience almost right into the performance.  Similarly, Richard Gammon's direction offered 
a direct, no-nonsense style of acting from his cast that made this small, high strung and 
emotionally damaged family real in every sense.  

He was also blessed with a cast that made magic.  As the acclaimed actress Madeline 
mezzo soprano Rachaan Bryce-Davis gave what can only be deemed a genuine, larger-
than-life tour-de-force, her beautiful, expressive face lighting up with smiles belied the 
frightened, hard-as-nails mother hiding a secret from her children through most of their 
lives.  Vocally, Bryce-Davis has a rich, warm, expressive voice, even throughout the 
registers from top-to-bottom.  This is a beautiful singer well on her way.  (Note, After this 
run, Ms. Bryce-Davis a guest artist, jets back to Antwerp where she is a member of the 
Opera Vlaanderen, for role debuts in Glass's "Satyagraha" and Eboli in "Don Carlos").  She's 
also one hell of an actress.

Soprano Symone Harcum was daughter Beatrice, and soared through Heggie's higher-lying 
music with ease and beautiful, lustrous tone.  She softened what I felt was (in the original 
performances) a difficult-to-love character and had the audience's sympathies early on.

Yazid Gray's Charlie was every part the equal of his mom and sister.  A beautifully produced 
baritone and touchingly effective actor, he brought Charlie's grief, resentment to life without 
presenting a character that could easily morph into the maudlin.  That line was never 

Music Director Timothy Steele had the difficult task of playing a single piano reduction of the 
score which did not allow always for nuances that a full ensemble would have provided.  But 
jeez, did he play it brilliantly, and held the entire work together in a most admirable 

Interestingly, surtitles were provided for the performance, but they were never needed 
because of the amazing diction from the cast . . . in fact, I'm not certain a single pair of 
eyes ever looked up.  We couldn't take our eyes of the stage.

We don't get a lot of contemporary opera in Maine, so "Three Decembers" was a most 
welcome gift from Opera Maine.  More please!


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