Presented by Remarkable Theater Brigade
Weill Recital Hall, NYC
Fri, Nov 4, 2011
Seeing the Remarkable Theater Brigade’s production Opera Shorts, it is clear that on a small stage like the one at Weill Recital Hall, it is very much a theatrical production that cannot escape that trapping, but the pieces that resulted from the 9 composers (Two of the shorts were composed by musical director Christian McLeer) were mostly comical in nature, thus making it a cheerful night for patrons and a kick in the pants for the opera world.
McLeer’s Sonata was first on the program, and it immediately revealed itself (as did a few other works on this evening) as an operatic version of Forbidden Broadway, stripped of an actual plot and/or libretto and left with cookie-cutter operatic roles making use of the 4th wall and talking stabs at operatic cliches like the wronged lady, the jealous lover, and topping it off, the Shakespearean suicide. Most appealing about this piece was the sweet performance of soprano Danya Katok in her characterization of a typical operatic heroine.
It may have been a mistake to have Sonata and the Patrick Soluri short Tragedy of Count Alfredo Von Nibelungen in the same program as it was yet another sendup of operatic cliches–This one focusing on particular composers like Wagner, Puccini, Verdi and Mozart. While this piece had just as much gall, it made for a slightly abundant programming.
Tom Cipullo’s The Husbands was an unprecedented serious short that reminded me very strongly of Sondheim’s most cerebral works. Very effective performances by Danya Katok and baritone Chris Pedro Trakas as the narrators of a story (based on William Carpenter’s Rain) depicting widows being reunited with their long-lost husbands only to lose them again. The story characters (non-singing) were performed beautifully by Lauren Alfano, Laura Federici, Genaro Mendez and Dewey Moss. The white shroud draped over the widows by the 2 narrators seemed to symbolize peace with death.
Another favorite was Anne Dinsmore Phillips’ Table #9, which got some of the biggest laughs of the night due to its Seinfeld-ian nature of being virtually about nothing, just the two ladies having brunch. Kristin Patterson’s powerful alto voice made the irony of the piece play out all the more achingly sweet.
The closer, William Bolcom’s short Barnyard Boogaloo, was probably the most theatrical of all of the shorts due to a few strains thrown in that seemed a bit inspired by rock musicals. Perhaps not the composer’s best work, but it made good use of the cast (the largest ensemble of players among the works), and it even featured music director McLeer in the role of the master of the barnyard.
The range of the feel of the different shorts was mostly well-programmed, and while I love the comical operas, I would hope that they can include even more dramatic ones in future shows as well.