BWW OperaView: A Look into the Kennedys, Ghosts and Holocaust Survivors at ALT Alumni Concert at the Morgan Library
Baritone Joseph Lattanzi and mezzo Laura Krumm didn't originate at the roles of Jack and Jackie Kennedy when JFK--the new opera by David T. Little and Royce Vavrek--premiered in Fort Worth a year ago. Neither did Heather Johnson as Jackie O nor Jessica James as the maid Clara (and other roles). But they certainly owned them in the excerpts presented in the most daring of the four excellent works represented in the "ALT Alumni: Composers and Librettists in Concert" in the Gilder Lehrman Hall at New York's Morgan Library & Museum last week.
ALT--American Lyric Theatre, one of JFK's co-commissioners and home to the Composer Librettist Development Program, which founder and director Larry Edelson calls a "master's program in opera writing"--has been presenting these concerts annually, to show what's going on in writing for opera from the ALT side of town. It was a heady mix: The alumni represented here were composer Clint Borzoni (THE COPPER QUEEN with librettist John de los Santos), composer Gerald Cohen and librettist Deborah Brevoort of STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME, librettist Stephanie Fleischmann (AFTER THE STORM with composer David Hanlon) and JFK's Vavrek (and librettist of this year's Pulitzer Prize in Music winner, Du Yun's ANGEL BONE, among other high visibility projects).
Last things first, the three sections from JFK ended the afternoon on a particularly high note, providing a heady look into the glorious score of a highly stylized work. While an intimate introductory duet for Jack and Jackie ("You Look Familiar/Written on the Palm") and the unintentionally ironic "Lucky Man" aria for Jack were beautifully written and performed, it was the trio, "It is Time/I Have a Rendezvous," for the two stages of Jackie's life (Jackie Kennedy and Jackie O) plus the maid, that walked off with the honors for the sheer beauty of its writing, pithy accompaniment and all. I was skeptical when I heard the trio compared to the similar Act III ensemble from DER ROSENKAVALIER--coincidentally being performed at the Met this week--until Krumm, Johnson and Jones performed it so wonderfully and I found so much to admire. The opera's next fully staged performance will be at the Opera de Montreal, another of its co-commissioners (with FWOpera and ALT), in January 2018.
The multiple tragedies of the Holocaust have inspired numerous contemporary operas, but STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME by Cohen and Brevoort is unusual. Based on a true story--Cohen was inspired by the story of two of his congregants in Scarsdale, where he is a cantor--the creators describe it as a romantic comedy-farce, set against the trials of concentration camp life. Attracted to each other, Ina and Jaap Polak were both otherwised engaged: He was married, she involved with a man gone off to an unknown fate in Auschwitz.