FGO’s “No Exit” proves an intense and riveting experience

By Lawrence Budmen

Caitlin McKechney, Riley Svatos and Casey Finnegan in Andy Vores' "No Exit," presented by FGO Thursday night  at Arena Lounge in Miami Beach.

Caitlin McKechney, Riley Svatos and Casey Finnegan in Andy Vores’ “No Exit,” presented by FGO Thursday night at Arena Lounge in Miami Beach.

Florida Grand Opera’s production of Andy Vores’ No Exit is a compelling fusion of twentieth century avant-garde theater and bracing vocal and instrumental writing. The second presentation in the company’s Unexpected Opera in Unexpected Places series, this challenging and audacious work drew a hip South Beach audience to the Arena Lounge in the heart of Washington Avenue’s club scene for  Thursday’s late-night opening. The whoops and yelps of the crowd at the conclusion seemed closer to what one hears at a rock concert, a tribute to Vores’ non-traditional, highly original creation.

Based on Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1944 existentialist play, the drama revolves around three characters confined to a room. In due course, they discover that they are, actually, in hell. Each of the principals has a dark secret that has landed them there and, as their stories  are gradually revealed, they realize that they are destined to be each other’s torturers as they conclude “hell is other people.”

The Welsh-born Vores has crafted a series of terse confrontations, the astringent recitative occasionally broken by brief moments of lyricism amid the wild intervals and leaps between vocal registers. Britten, Berg and Berio have influenced Vores’ writing but his musical voice never sounds derivative. While the score is basically moored in tonality,  at times the writing veers into uncharted territory.

Scored for the unusual combination of viola, soprano saxophone, keyboard and percussion, the instrumental commentary matches the singers’ screams and cries with astringent dissonance leavened by hints of expansive melodic lines. While Sartre’s play has lost some of its shock value in the intervening seven decades, Vores restores much of its jolting theatricality.

This one-of-a-kind work requires a smartly staged, whipcrack production and FGO rose to the occasion with an imaginative staging and three riveting principals, all FGO Young Artists, who were undaunted by the score’s awesome demands.

Director Jeffrey Marc Buchman turns the lounge’s confined space to advantage, the protagonists’ closeness contributing to their torment. The singers’ faces are projected in distorted fashion on a screen, the valet who escorts them to the room acting as cameraman and insidious, silent manipulator. Prior to the performance, pounding music from the room’s speakers and projections of glaring color and geometric combinations set the claustrophobic atmosphere.

As the lesbian Inez who has aided in the murder of her cousin’s husband, the coolly sexy Caitlin McKechney is clearly the show’s star. Her alluring mezzo-soprano timbre, incisive verbal articulation, expressive eyes and catlike movements rivet attention.

The sexual tension between McKechney and Riley Svatos as Estelle is combustible. The embodiment of high society hauteur, Svatos’  florid high soprano and flirty charm initially mask Estelle’s murder of her child and her lover’s subsequent suicide.

As the seemingly good-natured army deserter and faithless husband Garcin, Casey Finnigan unfurls a powerful, aptly edgy tenor; yet his word painting turns softer as he begs for Inez’s forgiveness and salvation. Carlton Ford is the stentorian valet, unfazed by the high baritonal range.

With the players behind a barrier in the corner of the room, FGO assistant conductor Zoe Zeniodi conducts a fleet, dramatically intense performance. Kudos to the four musicians (Frank Capoferri, soprano sax, Ross DeBardelaben, viola, Ryan Hecker, percussion and Michael Sakir, keyboard) for negotiating the piercing screeches and jazzy rhythms with clarity and zest. This production of No Exit is a must see for all interested in opera’s future.

Florida Grand Opera repeats No Exit 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Arena Lounge, 653 Washington Avenue in Miami Beach.  Saturday’s performance will be live-streamed at noexitnowhere.com800-741-1010; fgo.org

Posted in Performances

One Response to “FGO’s “No Exit” proves an intense and riveting experience”

  1. Posted Feb 28, 2014 at 1:58 pm by Peter Tiboriw

    Conductor Kudos to Zeniodi…….I am not surprised as she is a top flight artist and musician
    P tiboris

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Fri Feb 28, 2014
at 11:12 am
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