Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Wanton Sublime & The Companion - 04/22/14

The Wanton Sublime
Composer: Tarik O'Regan
Librettist: Anna Rabinowitz
Stage Director: Mallory Catlett
Mary: Hai-Ting Chinn

The Companion
Composer: Robert Paterson
Librettist: David Cote
Stage Director: Walker Lewis
Maya: Nancy Allen Lundy
Joe: Brandon Snook
Dax: Kyle Guglielmo

A lot has been written about the current, unquestionably worrisome, situation of opera in New York City, especially after the much lamented demise of The New York City Opera last fall and the recent release of The Met's lackluster upcoming season, therefore it is easy to forget that some good, or at least promising, things are happening too. The Big Apple is still the home of myriads of talented, bold and pro-active artists, who only need a little luck, some modest funding and a regular audience to breathe new energized life into the art form.
And from the look of things, this much needed entrepreneur spirit was alive and well at Roulette, a cool, versatile and convenient space located a few blocks from BAM in Brooklyn, on Tuesday night when Ear Heart Music, American Modern Ensemble and American Opera Projects have joined their impressive creative forces to present the premieres of two semi-staged chamber operas. And that's where my friend Linden and I had ventured and taken our seats among an eclectic and enthusiastic crowd that had quickly filled up the attractive venue.

Tarik O'Regan's "The Wanton Sublime" rested for the most part on the slim but unwavering shoulders of mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn, whose clear voice and expressive singing beautifully conveyed the mythical and earthly aspects of the Virgin Mary. Whether dutifully folding laundry under a crude modern lighting and pondering her unusual fate while celestially lit from a mysterious source, Mary's complex personality progressively appeared in gripping snapshots as she was questioning her place in the world.
This impressive one-woman show was strongly supported by a chamber orchestra composed by members of AME, with whom she shared the stage. The fragmented, but nevertheless focused, score powerfully highlighted Mary's dual persona with, among other catchy musical accompaniments, the assertiveness of percussion and the sweetness of the violin. This was an unusual, fascinating and touching musical portrait of someone who, to this day, has fundamentally remained a somewhat mysterious character as a historical figure and as a woman.
The intermission was partly spent listening to an insightful discussion on the creative process of the works among the composers, librettists and stage directors of both projects that was moderated by author A.M. Homes.
Then we moved on to Robert Paterson's "The Companion", which is the second act of an opera triptych called Three Way. In sharp contrast to the world's most famous woman existential hand-wringing about her destiny, this futuristic endeavor could be best described as an innovative - and, yes, occasionally explosive - cocktail of opera buffa, sex comedy, science fiction, psychological study and social commentaries, all supported by an appropriately gritty score.
This production also had the distinct advantage of featuring three remarkably engaging singers in Nancy Allen Lundy as Maya, an unsatisfied corporate executive desperately looking for the perfect man, Brandon Snook as Joe, her android companion who can never seem to be able to fulfill all her needs, and Kyle Guglielmo as Dax, a no-nonsense tech-support agent caught in the middle of it all. With a well-paced and tightly written libretto peppered with quite a few sparkling dirty jokes and plenty of underlying sharp observations about relationships and technology, "The Companion" effortless managed to tackle heavy topics and be wildly, yet smartly, entertaining at the same time. So our evening ended on a resolutely high note, having been at least temporarily reassured about the current state of new musical enterprises in New York City.

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