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Review: Preview of Upcoming AMERICAN APOLLO Brings Des Moines Metro Opera Season to a Fine End

Review: Preview of Upcoming AMERICAN APOLLO Brings Des Moines Metro Opera Season to a Fine End

A fantastic production that brings a celebratory season to a close while looking to the future.

Des Moines Metro Opera (DMMO) recently brought its 50th Anniversary season to a close, and they saved a special treat for their audiences. For the 2024 season, they are commissioning a full-length opera of AMERICAN APOLLO. As a treat to those in attendance this season, they offered the opportunity to see the current 30-minute version of the opera AMERICAN APOLLO. This presentation was also able to be used to workshop the show and how it could be expanded.

With the story of AMERICAN APOLLO not being well known to audiences and the short running time, DMMO made this a unique experience for the audiences. They started the performance with a lecture by Nathaniel Silver about the artist John Singer Sargent, and Thomas McKeller, who modeled for many of the artist's sketches and paintings. This was an excellent intro for the audience to see what led to AMERICAN APOLLO being written in the first place.

The afternoon continued with the production of AMERICAN APOLLO. Coming into the auditorium, you can see a few sparing pieces for the set and a wall at the back of the stage. With this being performed at Des Moines Art Center, there isn't much room to perform the show. So the sparse scenic design by Calvin Stara worked well. There was a purpose to each piece brought on to the stage. What made the stage come alive visually was the combination of lighting by Bridget S. Williams and the gorgeous video/projection design by David Murakami.

Seeing what they were able to do with this short opera makes me hope to see them stage the full version when it hits the stage at DMMO. Stage Director Kimille Howard did a fantastic job of using the small space and taking us an audience to each place we needed to be in the story, from the studio, to outside, to back in the studio, and a smaller orchestra under the direction of conductor David Neely.

The show consisted of a trio of fantastic performances that excited me to see how these roles may be expanded for the future production of "American Apollo." The first of those actors was Justin Austin in the role of Thomas McKeller. He had a beautiful aria in scene 2 that showcased his baritone voice that let us into his character's head as he questioned the effect of posing for these paintings of other people, asking what it means to be art.

It was a performance that I am still thinking about to this day. Tenor Thomas Glenn made his DMMO debut in the role of John Singer Sargent, the artist. His Sargent battles the question of what it means to make art. Giving us yet another question to think about is Mary Dunleavy as Isabella Stewart Gardner. While her character is only in the middle two scenes of the opera, she has a significant impact on the action happening on stage. Her character leads us to question if the art being made is worthwhile. The opera also featured Jason Zacher, a current DMMO Apprentice Artist, as Jimmy.

The performance was followed by a Talkback moderated by Dr. Naomi André, with actor Justin Austin, Director Kimille Howard, composer Damien Geter, and librettist Lila Palmer. I appreciated hearing about the process of coming up with the idea of AMERICAN APOLLO and how it grew to what we saw as an audience. One of my favorite things to hear was Director Kimille Howard talking about how they were able to dig into the characters and develop each character's story. Leaving the Talkback, it has me excited to see the full version in an upcoming season for DMMO.

As we look to the future of opera, DMMO is making it look very bright. By bringing a shorter opera like AMERICAN APOLLO this season and commissioning the full opera for the future season, they are showing the audience the process of how a new opera comes to the stage. I hope as they do further workshops of this opera leading up to its full-length debut, I hope there are opportunities for audiences to continue to get a peek behind the curtain as the show continues to develop. As their 50th anniversary comes to a close, audiences can know great things are continuing to happen with DMMO, and I am excited to see what they do in the future.

Regional Awards


From This Author - DC Felton

David Felton has been involved in theatre since his middle school production of The Wizard of Oz. Throughout high school he stayed onstage, and once he got to college he started exploring thebackst... (read more about this author)


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