BWW Preview: ELIZABETH CREE is a Tale from a New York Crypt Headed for Philadelphia Opera Festival

By: Jun. 05, 2017
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In the Crypt with Kevin Puts, Joseph Gaines,
Mark Campbell and Daniela Mack.
Photo: Andrew Ousley.

Fifteen compelling minutes of a new work doesn't always turn into an opera for all seasons, but a first-look at ELIZABETH CREE--Kevin Puts' and Mark Campbell's latest collaboration--came across with startling originality. (Puts said that grisly murder was "fun to set to music.") Based on Peter Ackrolyd's Victorian-era tale of murder, mayhem and music hall in London's dangerous Limehouse district, the handful of arias were presented at the Crypt Sessions concert series in northern Manhattan's Church of the Intercession,.

Introduced by Puts and Campbell--who seem ready to go into vaudeville themselves, from their lively patter--the 90-minute chamber opera, premiering at Opera Philadelphia's new O17 festival on September 14, works its way backward in Campbell's tasty libretto, mixing humor and gore with his usual aplomb. (Opera Philadelphia commissioned the piece.)

It starts with a descending fourth (her motif) as Cree is sentenced for the murder of her husband--did she or didn't she? The fascinating excerpts of Puts' score (Pulitzer winner with Campbell for SILENT NIGHT in 2012), with its chromatic weaving, found a perfect conduit in the velvet authority of flexible mezzo Daniela Mack. She was seconded by tenor Joseph Gaines who skillfully drew her music hall partner Dan Leno. (Among the opera's other characters not heard on this occasion are--shades of Tom Stoppard--Victorian novelist George Gissing and Karl Marx.)

Before delving into the new score, the concert began with some songs from the two singers that seemed right at home in the crypt, with the "luxury casting" of composer Puts on piano. Particularly fascinating was Mack's take on Britten's haunting "A Charm of Lullabies" (Gaines did the composer's "Death Be Not Proud," to John Donne's famous poem, along with Poulenc's "Tel jour telle nuit").

The concert marked the end of the second season of the ingenious concert series, The Crypt Sessions, the brainchild of Unison Media's Andrew Ousley, with proceeds going to the church. The crypt was the perfect setting for the music and the series will hopefully be back for another round in the fall. It's located on the northern edge of a neighborhood called Hamilton Heights--named for the suddenly "hot" Alexander Hamilton, who's buried in the church.


The Philadelphia Opera's world premiere of ELIZABETH CREE takes place on September 14 at the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, 300 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia, with further performances on September 16m, 19, 21 and 23m.

ELIZABETH CREE is also scheduled to be heard at Chicago Opera Theatre, February 10, 16 and 18m, 2018.