BWW OperaView: A Funny Thing - or Not - Happened on the Way to the Opera House

BWW OperaView: A Funny Thing - or Not - Happened on the Way to the Opera House

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be the best version of yourself, a "Human 2.0" in computer-speak? That's what MACHINE, by composer Rene Orth and librettist Jason Kim, asks, adding, "And what does 'perfect' mean?" The hero of this chamber piece, with its cacophonous, soaring musical lines, chooses to have a computer chip implanted in her brain in order to be free of shortcomings, "a perfect being" (or so she thinks). During a video introduction, the composer worries about her own relation to perfection--a needless concern, it seemed [she's Opera Philadelphia's current composer in residence].

A couple of the pieces took their cues from mythology but showed modern sensibilities--and couldn't be more different from one another.

On the Chinese side, there was RATED R FOR RAT, with music and libretto by Wang Jie, while the Greeks prompted BEFORE THE NIGHT SKY, with music by Randall Eng and libretto by Donna Di Novelli, both developed through AOP.

RAT--which takes place as humans faced extinction and the Zodiac animal gods struggle with a crisis of their own--is due for a full production later this year from Festival Opera outside San Francisco. It has a frequently amusing libretto and some high-flying music, particularly for the Lark character, sung here by soprano Lauren Worsham. SKY was more philosophical in tone, and showed some beautiful writing for two voices (dealing with two pairs of twins, male [Castor and Pollux] and female [Clytymnestra and Helen]).

Finally, there was THE NEFARIOUS, IMMORAL BUT HIGHLY PROFITABLE ENTERPRISE OF MR. BURKE & MR. HARE--due for its world premiere at Boston Lyric Opera in November--by composer Julian Grant and the omnipresent librettist Mark Campbell. Commissioned by Music-Theatre Group in Brooklyn, it tells about the short (but not sweet) careers of a pair who supplied cadavers to a medical school in Edinburgh in 1828, and weren't to be stopped by a shortage of bodies, killing 16 people before they were caught. Sweeney Todd, watch out--you have some competition!

The creators couldn't have wished for better musical resources in presenting their works in progress, including singers Blythe Gaissart, Heather Buck, Amy Shoremount-Obra, Nian Wang, Vale Rideout, Chad Sloan, Liam Moran, Keith Browning, Evan Crawford, William Hare and the Choral Chameleon under Vince Peterson, with the SONOS Chamber Orchestra under Erik Ochsner.

The showcase was made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation.

Minnesota Opera's DINNER AT EIGHT

Finally, there was Minnesota Opera's DINNER AT EIGHT, which takes place in the 1920s, as the Depression was setting in--a time not that different from our own, with "the unravelling of much of what we hold dear," according to librettist Mark Campbell. This was an add-on to the Forum activities, developed separately, and by far the most sophisticated and ready for prime time of all the excerpts I saw. (It should be: It's opening on March 11 at Ordway Center in St. Paul and is scheduled later for Ireland's Wexford Festival and the Atlanta Opera.)

BWW OperaView: A Funny Thing - or Not - Happened on the Way to the Opera House
Costume (Victoria Tzykun) and set (Alexander Dodge)
renderings for DINNER AT EIGHT.

Based on the Kauffman and Ferber play of the same name--the latest piece by the multi-faceted William Bolcom, with a Campbell libretto that is funny and moving, in Tomer Zvulun's production--the few excerpts that were presented sounded sensational and left me wanting more. Bolcom's score runs the gamut from Broadway to jazz to opera, and was presented by a game cast that included soprano Brenda Harris and baritone Craig Irvin performing roles that they will be doing at the opening, along with soprano Mary Evelyn Hangley, baritone Jesse Blumberg and tenor David Walton, with Jessica Hall on piano.

DINNER AT EIGHT was commissioned as part of Minnesota Opera's New Works Initiative, which was launched in 2008.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.