Urban Arias I: Orpheus
Imma be late to the party on this one. Saw the last perf of the inaugural show of a very exciting new development: a company called Urban Arias devoted to presenting chamber opera (mind you, this should not prevent anyone from naming their urban demographic-targeted romance novel the same).
So, it probably gets old when reviews of chamber opera always start with some fawning about the joy of hearing big time voices in lil' spaces, but for people who live in places where the motherlode of their operatic experiences occur in auditoriums that could credibly host professional basketball tournaments, the necessity of small-scale stagings like this "Orpheus and Euridice" by Ricky Ian Gordon needs to be acknowledged.
Gordon's piece, for soprano (Euridice), clarinet (Orpheus), and piano is distinguished most by the exquisite writing for its constituent parts--Elizabeth Futral's aching soprano and the remarkable emotional range of Todd Palmer's clarinet weave about each other and combine to thrilling effect. Gordon inhabits the unassuming musical language he lays out with great skill--but is this derivative or lightweight (Midgette makes note of such sentiments here)? One grows tired of interrogating every tonal piece of new music for whether it is sufficiently "hardcore", or *gasp* "Broadway". Suffice it to say that I think Gordon has very little interest in cheap musical appeal in this piece and every commitment to creating something that is both enriching and honest.
Experiencing Futral up close was a delight. This was a very fine vocal performance, but I was particularly struck by the quality of her overall characterization. I know there's been talk about opera singers' acting skills recently. But to some degree, the kind of acting available in a theatre or movie just isn't possible for opera singers, who must work through their voices and through gesture rather than characterization. But Futral demonstrated her ability to give both a compelling vocal performance and the kind of physical acting critical for a production like this.
Moreover, the stage direction (by Kevin Newbury) achieved precisely the level one hopes for in a work like this--understated in accordance with the modest forces but confident and inventive in its stage craft.