I attended the closing night performance of the American Chamber Opera in
NYC last night (out of friendship to one of the performers) and was
delighted by the experience.
The company was presenting the World Premiere of "Beast and Superbeast," a
group of four chamber operas based on stories by Saki. The composer is Jorge
Martin. The librettist is Andrew Joffe, who also stage directed and is the
artistic director of the company.
The four stories (to quote from their publicity flyer) were:
THE INTERLOPERS...two enemies trapped under a fallen tree end their bitter
feud once and for all...bu in a manner neither had foreseen.
SREDNI VASHTAR..a sick and lonely boy in the care of a tyrannical cousin
finds freedom and comfort through the mysterious agency of his secret
friend, a wild ferret.
THE MAPPINED LIFE...a young woman, reliving her visit to the zoo that
morning, has a most powerful and unexpected effect on her aunt.
TOBERMORY...a comedy of ill manners, in which human hypocrisy is exposed by
the blunt honesty of a miraculously talking cat.
I'm not sure how to describe the music. The word "eclectic" comes to mind.
Depending on the situation and the text it was sometimes non-tonal,
sometimes harsh and rhythmic, sometimes exotic and there was even a bit of
ragtime mixed in. The texts were wonderfully set -- for both vocalism and
comprehension. I could see that some of the roles were real plums,
especially the little boy, Conradin, in Sredni Vashtar. That piece featured
some interesting casting. A soprano in the role of the boy; and a male alto
in the role of the domineering cousin, Mrs. De Ropp. Their relative sizes
made the soprano look even more like an 11-year-old boy. (After the show,
the librettist showed me a photo of Saki at that age. The similarity in
appearance was really creepy). To his credit, the alto, who has sung with La
Gran Scena, played his role straight -- no camping -- and it really worked.
He also appeared at the aunt in the Mappined Life and was very moving.
Of the four pieces, Sredni Vashtar and Tobermory were by far the strongest.
Anyone looking for a chamber piece for a music school or university should
take a look at Tobermory, which won the 1992 National Opera Association
Chamber Opera Competition. It's funny, accessible, and there are lots of
very good, very singable parts.
Of all the performers last night, the one who stood out for me was Bethany
Reeves who played the little boy in Sredni Vashtar. She has a whisper-tiny
voice but it works very well. And as I said, she was the image of the
character. According to the program she is also involved in theater, and
performs Shakespeare no less. So she really was quite brilliant on stage.
The rest of the singers were of generally good quality, some with regional
opera credits. But the real treat of the evening were the pieces themselves.
They truly deserve to be heard.
If anyone is of a mind to give these works a look see, they videotaped at
least one performance and, I believe, also taped them for a possible CD.
Here's the address:
The American Chamber Opera Company, Inc.
P.O. Box 909, Ansonia Station
New York, NY 10023
212-781-0857 -- 718-596-2038
So, a lovely night at the opera and today I got my confirmation for my
1996-1997 Met series. Saturday Matinee 2. Anybody else gonna be there?
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