BWW Reviews: DARK SISTERS Might Surprise You
DARK SISTERS, the new opera about a polygamist family with music by Nico Muhly, and libretto by Stephen Karam, takes a cue from the recent trial of FLDS leader Warren Jeffs. Mainstream Mormonism and its polygamist roots have become popular topics of late, visible everywhere from the Republican primary to Broadway to television shows like HBO's Big Love and TLC's Sister Wives. Nonetheless, DARK SISTERS succeeds in its careful rendering of the well-trod subject of polygamy - the opera soars on its own merits (Muhly's beautiful score and Karam's well-chosen images) without devolving into cult fetishism.
The opera's opening tableau is stunningly achieved on Leo Warner's set which captures the expanse of the American Southwest. Against a brilliant clouded sky, the five wives of the Prophet mourn the loss of their children who have been taken away by the state. As the women sing the names of their sons and daughters you notice that their white nightgowns turn red toward the hem and appear to fade into the desert floor beneath their bare feet. Muhly's score mirrors the sprawling landscape; it is ethereal, unsettling, and occasionally, holy. The sister wives' refrain throughout the piece - "Keep Sweet" - travels a satisfying journey as familial bonds are tested and personal histories are re-examined.
At its core, DARK SISTERS is about the mothers and their relationships with their children. One of the opera's most moving scenes comes, unexpectedly, during a television interview as the women plead to be reunited with the ones they love the most. Video design by Warner and Mark Grimmer offers a closer look at the internal struggles of these well-drawn women who, like many aspects of DARK SISTERS, might surprise you.