Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New operas

I just went to the Juventas/OperaHub production of three new chamber operas. I got a couple of comps, and although I couldn't persuade anyone to go with me - Holy Week rehearsals are eating people up - I'm very glad I went. However, part of the joy of going to new music concerts is talking about it afterwards, and I have no one to talk at! So my blog shall bear the brunt of the burden.

The first opera was called Dust of the Road by Marcus Karl Maroney. The composition was solid - I thought the orchestration was especially fine, and the vocal writing was well done, although I felt that he used the "have the singer stay on one note for a really long time for dramatic effect" conceit a bit too much, and I just didn't feel his vocal writing was very melodic in general - more through-composed and atmospheric, which just isn't my thing. However, there were some really nice moments, especially in the second half, and when he dropped out the orchestra for an a cappella moment towards the end, it was really beautiful and effective.

Then we got to the second opera. This one, A Rooster for Asclepius, fell into the category of "innovative." There was video, and weird costumes, and masks, and random extreme vocal effects like yodeling and hissing and having the singers hold their noses, and there didn't seem to be a point to any of it, so the combination of composition and staging was, for me, was rather tiresome. Trying to shock your audience for shock's sake is rather last-century, non?

I believe the third opera, RE: by Christine McClintock, may have been my favorite. I really, really liked the music for this one - she had some lovely melodies, and I liked the tension she set up between the rhythm of the melodies and the rhythm of the words. Unfortunately I really couldn't figure out what was going on - the book was a compilation of Craigslist snippets, and if there was plot, I'm not sure what happened. This was partially exacerbated by a problem that all of the operas faced, namely that of balance due to the room (see below) although I also felt that in this opera the composer layered instruments that were in the same range as the voices on top of them, so that made it harder to hear the voices. However, of all the composers I heard tonight, I will be most interested to see what she does in the future.

The main problem with the entire evening was the balance between the instruments and voices - whenever things got loud and dramatic, the singers were quite hard to hear, through no fault of their own. This was a problem with the room - it was just a room, not a stage, with a pointy ceiling that I suspect didn't reflect the sound back, and the orchestra was on the floor with the audience in front of the stage. The walls of the room also ate up the sound - if someone turned their head even just a slight angle away from the audience, there was a much more dramatic drop in volume than you would get on a normal stage. I am not sure what anyone could have done about this - performance space is hard to come by in this city.

The most delightful aspect of the whole evening was the level of the singers. They were just fantastic on all counts, and that includes acting, too, in addition to their voices. They were comfortable on stage, focused in their intention, beautiful diction, beautiful tone...I can't even pick any one singer out for special praise, because then I'd have to give individual props to all of them. The orchestra too was very fine (enough so that I am wondering where they came from and if I can convince any of them to play for me in the future.) But the singers - I just wanted to gather them all up under my wings and take them over to the Lyric or Opera Boston and say, "You must give all of these people leading roles and big salaries right now! What are you thinking, letting talent like this languish unappreciated! For shame!"

It's just depressing - I know so many singers that I respect so much, and they can't make a living. Where's a sympathetic billionaire when you need one?


  1. Thanks for the reviews, sounds like a fun evening. It is just a crazy world for singers, so much great talent, so few ready-made opportunities. I've written and produced my own chamber opera (after having a university produce my first) and it's amazing how these singers come out of the woodwork when you provide an opportunity.

  2. To M. Ryan:

    It's not easy out there for composers, either! Good luck to you!