BWW Review: An ALT-ernative View of Opera for the 21st Century

BWW Review: An ALT-ernative View of Opera for the 21st Century

Composer Mazzoli's musical language gave real thrust and excitement to the three meaty excerpts presented at the concert; the highlight (for me, at least) was Bess's aria, "The Map of Jan's body," sung by the high-flying soprano Sarah Joy Miller (who made such a strong impression in City Opera's swan song, ANNA NICOLE, at BAM) sensuously portraying her predicament. Baritone Weyandt's smooth instrument did well with Jan's poignant aria, "A Lover's Grave," while the aria of Dodo, Bess's sister-in-law, "Golden Heart," was sung knowingly by the warm-voiced mezzo Gigliotti.

THE PROPERTY by Wlad Marhulets & Stephanie Fleischmann

Now for something completely different: THE PROPERTY by Wlad Marhulets and Stephanie Fleischmann, with a score that brought copious melody with a klezmer beat and a story with a mystery at its heart. In some ways, this was the most purely entertaining of the works on the program, adapted from a graphic novel by Rutu Modan.

The piece was commissioned by Lyric Unlimited at the Lyric Opera of Chicago as one of the companion pieces to Mieczyslaw Weinberg's Holocaust-themed opera, THE PASSENGER, but it has a bittersweet rather than horrific edge to its story. Mezzo Gigliotti and soprano Miller made a wonderful grandmother/granddaughter pairing, their voices easily melding in their duet, "The Hotel Krol," as well in their quartet, "The Fotoplasticon," joined by the smooth voice of baritone Weyandt and the burlier sound of bass-baritone Albertson.

DAUGHTERS OF BLOODY DUKE by Jake Runestad & David Johnston

The final work on the program was DAUGHTERS OF BLOODY DUKE, commissioned by the Washington National Opera from composer Jake Runestad and librettist David Johnston. It combined humor with blood-and-guts--a kind of spin on the classic movie musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" taken to the nth degree; this time, it's 40 daughters for 40 sons, with the women's goal of killing all the men. Screams from all over the theatre punctuated the action, adding to the delight of the audience.

The performers seemed to be having fun, too, particularly soprano Worra, who wielded her knife as knowingly as her full-voiced soprano, and mezzo Gigliotti as the ghost of grandma Craven, the Countess Eleanor. I sometimes wonder where musical theatre stops and opera starts in the current musical environment, but composer Runestad doesn't seem to have such concerns; the attractive cast, which also included lively soprano of Sarah Joy Miller and the bright-voiced tenor Glen Seven Allen, found the smart score congenial to perform.

Gloria Kim, performing at the keyboard and as music director, gave us a fine representation of what to expect from the full orchestral scores of operas. She easily adapted to the demands of the varied works (no easy task), while keenly supporting the vocal performers.

Will any of these works replace LA TRAVIATA or TOSCA in the standard repertoire? That's hardly the the point. Expanding our horizons beyond the masterworks of Verdi and Puccini--as well as developing audiences for the art form--is what it's all about.

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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.