Saturday, December 17, 2005

Tragic Magic

First, a retraction is in order: I posted earlier this evening a bit of a snarky comment about seeing a cover for Susan Graham in this evening's An American Tragedy.

Well, shame on me! Alex and I both agreed, as soon as Kirsten Chavez finished the "New York Changed Me" aria from act one--she has got the goods and really delivered. To my knowledge, she is the first cover to go on in this production (Considering this was the 5th performance and there are half a dozen or so major roles, that is actually fairly impressive.)

Her lower register may actuallly be stronger than Graham's. Her voice really carries down there, and has a rich, sexy timbre. That said, she floats effortlesly up top when called upon to do so---specifically in the opening phrases of the New York aria. Not a bad actress either, and quite the opera hot diva. Brava to her. I was (for once) utterly shut up!

A second sitting is really helpful for this piece. I still totally love it and am affected on a real visceral level by many moments in the score (at least as sung by this generally phenomenal cast):

-As I said to Alex earlier, Dolora Zajick's aria in the prison cell in act II is potentially the best thing that ever happened to me, followed closely by my cat and the disco fries at Diner 24. She is an absolute force of nature, and this writing is ideally suited for her powerhouse capabilities.

-The two big Sondra arias, both in act one (New York Changed Me and the one about being on the lake in summer) are gorgeous, lyrical showpieces for a great mezzo.

-some incredible stuff for Roberta--especially the incredibly difficult and stylistically varied act II opener. Racette knocks it out of the park like it was no thang

-Some shining ensemble moments--first, the trio when Sondra is dictating the party invite and shirtless Gunn is about to make a baby with crazy Pat Racette (we decided that we really hope she goes by Pat in close circles). This is just heartbreaking and lovely. The vocal lines remain so disconnected from one another, fully autonomous...and then find each other for fleeting, glorious moments. This trio is a real highlight of the piece. Second, the ominous, musically violent duet between Clyde and Roberta that closes out act one (aka "Whoa Roberta, Maybe It is Just a Light Flow Month") Third, the duet between Sondra and Roberta at the opening of Act II. Checking out Gunn's...calves...and listening to those two profess their devotion in an extended duet for soprano and mezzo is nothing short of heavenly. Lastly, I need to mention the choral writing in the church scene. Picker creates a relentlessly repetitive, dark version of a church hymn that is at once beautiful and terrifying--taking us from the potentially sweet scene of Clyde meeting Sondra's parents for the first time at church into what seems an inevitable confrontation with Roberta. This scene is terrific stuff.

Dramatically, this opera I find works really quite well, cosidering the immense volume of material upon which it is based. It's plot heavy, so things occasionally feel glossed over--but there is some surprisingly sophisticated character development. Particularly Sondra, who we just totally fall in love with, right along with dear Clyde. She is one of the more thoroughly well drawn operatic characters I can think of.

So, I was happy that I wasn't crazy. Though the energy was not the same as the night of the premiere, and the wonderful Susan Graham was absent, it was still a unique and wonderful 3.5 hours. And I still recommend it wholeheartedly and without reservation.

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