BWW Opera Review: A Captivating BEAST from the Center for Contemporary Opera
Under the umbrella of the New York Opera Fest, The Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO) presented an hour's worth of excerpts from THE WILD BEAST OF THE BUNGALOW, an episodic opera still in development by composer Rachel J. Peters and (the omnipresent) librettist Royce Vavrek. It was, frankly, spellbinding.
Peters' music grabs you by the collar and demands your attention. Whether she's in the spiky mode of the piece's heroine (if you can call her that), The Girl, in "Mermaid in a Jar," the first section (based on Sheila Heti's free verse story from The Middle Stories); the mass-like piece for stuffed prairie dogs (Part II: "Prairie Dogs"); or the barbershop quartet inside her head in "Part III: Fine and Dandy," Peters has lots to say and is not afraid to shift gears as she goes along.
The short but pithy program notes by the writers, declares that BUNGALOW "asks audiences to consider what happens when we face forces too overwhelming to torture or control on our own, and what to do when that all too familiar default to cruelty is no longer an option." I'm not sure all that comes across in Vavrek's libretto at this point; what does come through, though, is humor (sometimes silly, other times bitter) that has you nodding even as you're wincing, and a world view that makes you grateful for what's "normal" (whatever that means) in your own life.
The cast was smashing on all counts, so completely in tune with Peters' music that it was sometimes startling that they could be so far inside each other's heads. Donata Cucinotta was the center of it all as The Girl, with its rangy music. She captured all that was puerile and needy, and at the same time cruel and unthinking, in the dysfunctional worlds The Girl lives in and imagines: She abuses her mermaid in a bottle, retreats into her family of stuffed prairie dogs to escape the reality of her parents' defects and hears a '60s girl group (The Shingles) and barbershop quartet (The Fine and Dandies) as parts of her escape. The rest of the cast, many shifting seamlessly from role to role, included: Phoebe Haines, Jennifer Siladie, Darynn Zimmer, Toby Newman, Eric Brenner, Roland Burks, Todd Wilander and David Gordon. Bravo to all of them.
Sam Helfrich, the director, and Daniela Candillari, the conductor, with Peter Fancovic at the piano, did a beautiful job of tying it all together, so that the pieces seemed more than a whole (at least, at this point), with nothing feeling extraneous or unfinished, even if this is a work in progress.