Opera with a whiskey back
On Friday, April 16th, American Opera Projects and Opera on Tap presented a triple bill of new works at Galapagos Art Space in DUMBO, including what is essentially a pastiche, a collection of songs, and a one act opera. There were highs, there were lows; there was booze and opera in the same room. I cannot say I witnessed history that night, but I had a good time, and isn’t that really what it’s all about?
The first piece, AbSynth, was commissioned by its star, mezzo Abigail Fischer. I found Ms. Fischer’s voice tremulous and unsteady and the music mostly experimental and without focus or reason. I cannot fault the composers entirely because the texts were either ridiculous or vocalise a la Einstein on the Beach but without the rhythmic or harmonic intrigue. The highlight of the piece, which was a collection of electronic songs by several different composers crafted into a loosely assembled story, was the first song by Nico Muhly. The electronic sampling and phasing was reminiscent of some of the electronic works by Steve Reich, entrancing and fitting for a story about a robot made woman.
The middle child of this odd operatic family was a collection of songs by Tom Cipullo, who was also the pianist this evening. The songs of love and regret all worked wonderfully in this unique space. Before the set, Mr. Cipullo came out for a few words to explain a bit about what was to come as there were no programs for the evening; something I hope to see changed. Soprano Tory Browers, Mezzo Rebecca Jo Loeb, and Baritone Michael Anthony McGee alternated songs, and one aria for Mr. McGee from the soon to be premiered LUCY, but the theme was mostly consistent: Humor.
Mr. Cipullo smartly chose songs that played to the small, casual space with a fair amount of ambient noise. Mr. McGee’s dark and husky sound filled the hall easily, but honestly all of the singers in all pieces were heard easily without amplification. His songs can weave several different moods into the same line, and the writing is lyrical and beautiful. He does excel at quirky humor and chooses wonderful texts for this purpose, including a song about the neighbor’s dog and the love of Bergdorf Goodman.
The final piece of the evening was the premiere of Margot Alone in the Light with music by Clint Borzoni and libretto by Emily Conbere. The 30 minute opera, based on the Ray Bradbury story All Summer in a Day where children living on Venus only see the sun for an hour every 7 years. While I think this piece isn’t much on its own, I do believe that Mr. Borzoni has a great deal of talent, and with continued experience and practice could write some wonderful things.
I was also struck by the quality of the singers in this production; with Marth Guth as Margot, a young girl who moved to Venus from Ohio 4 years ago. Her lyric soprano is easily produced with great beauty, and she was pitiful in the best way as the bullied Margot. Andrew Drost was another standout of the show, a tenor in the vein of Heinz Zednik or Graham Clark. His voice is large enough to sing over any orchestra, and his character tenor sound is one that isn’t often trained; a good Mime is hard to find.
Galapagos was quite an interesting place to see an event like this. I personally think this type of venue is a great place for workshopping new works; those in the audience were young and seemingly very supportive of the performances. While the audience does show great consideration for the performances once they begin, the waitresses do still walk around and serve during the performances. As much as I like the casual atmosphere, I did find this a little distracting at times.
What I kept thinking about though, was the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the ’60s, where visionaries like Philip Glass would play in spacious lofts simply because they could. While Galapagos is definitely a money making venture, I think this is as close as the opera world will get to that type of experimental sharing as was seen all those years ago. My feelings are still mixed about the space, but I would certainly go again to a presentation like this. You never really know if you’ll be there for the premiere of the next great masterwork by the next great composer, and if you aren’t, well, the beer is still cold.