For those who think operas are too long, Frost Opera Theater offers a brisk alternative

By Lawrence Budmen

AT the OPear by Mary Cassatt, 1871.

At the Opera by Mary Cassatt

         Festival Miami presented “Six Operas in Sixty Minutes,” an innovative program by the Frost Opera Theater, on Tuesday at Gusman Concert Hall. Lukas Foss perfected this unique mini-opera genre with his ironic Introductions and Goodbyes. Four UM faculty composers and one graduate attempted to emulate that achievement with varying degrees of success. 

            Two monodramas utilized the ten-minute format effectively. Winter’s Journey by UM graduate Douglas J. Cuomo is based on Der Winterreise, the poetry cycle by Wilhelm Muller that Schubert set for baritone and piano. Cuomo has created a monologue for a woman who wanders a snow capped landscape mourning her lost love and longing for death.  This moving, atmospheric score channels long limbed arioso with a more agitated, pensive central episode. The vocal writing is taxing at both extremes of the mezzo-soprano  range, supported by churning instrumental underpinning.   

            Cuomo’s work cries out for a singing actress of the stature of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Maria Denison was a powerful theatrical presence but, while her top tones were radiant, her lower register tended to be wobbly and vibrato laden.  

            Lamentations of Ophelia by Scott Stinson was based on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This tour de force for coloratura soprano portrays the heroine’s frenzied delirium and suicide by drowning. Like the Mad Scene from Ambroise Thomas’ opera Hamlet, Ophelia’s increasing schizophrenia is painted in wild coloratura leaps but Stinson contrasts the dark atonality of her desperation with a neo-Baroque pastiche flashback to the her past at the Danish court, even quoting Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary. Jennifer Tipton, a mesmeric protagonist, attacked the high vocal roulades fearlessly. Thomas Sleeper conducted Stinson’s complex score masterfully. 

            Dennis Kam’s Opera 101 was an entertaining satire of considerable wit and ingenuity.  Singers parodied 19th century operatic clichés while the soprano solo This is an Aria recalls the early work of Gian Carlo Menotti  (i.e. Monica’s Waltz in The Medium). Lisa Conlon brought a pure, bright stream of tone to her solo opportunity. 

            The Marriage of the Sea by Raina Murnakreduced Jane Alison’s tale of star- crossed lovers in Venice to an upper tier Hollywood soundtrack.  While listener friendly, the music was hardly profound or memorable.   

            Two works by Frost Symphony Orchestra conductor Thomas Sleeper scored a hit and a miss. Beatrice Bends for Her Blue Ball was an avant garde anatomical journal sung by a vocal quartet. The novelty wore thin quickly and the repetitive minimalist score became monotonous. Alan Johnson conducted this piece and the Kam, Murnak and Cuomo scores with lithe precision. 

            Sleeper’s The Sisters Antipodes delves into the psychological trauma of children of divorced parents. In Alison’s libretto the parents have traded partners while the daughters of both marriages try to understand the events. Sleeper’s dramatically effective score recalls the emotional roller coaster of Stephen Sondheim’s Company. Conductor Zoe Zeniodi highlighted the lush string textures in Sleeper’s richly orchestrated vignette. Dean Southern’s brisk direction and imaginative use of projections brought theatrical vibrancy to the varied program.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “For those who think operas are too long, Frost Opera Theater offers a brisk alternative”

  1. Posted Oct 14, 2009 at 11:47 am by Chris Foley

    What a great way to introduce audiences to new operas! This mini-opera formula has already proven successful (both critically and at the box office) with several companies, including Tapestry New Opera Works in Toronto and the Scottish Opera in Glasgow.

  2. Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 4:21 pm by Benjamin

    This was a most enjoyable evening at the theater. We found all the compositions at least interesting and all well performed with strong production values. Alan Johnson is to be commended for spearheading this endeavor.
    The evening was rewarded with a capacity crowd.
    Congratulations to all.

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Wed Oct 14, 2009
at 10:40 am