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At this year’s Wexford Festival — the 62nd operatic gathering in this small south-eastern Irish town - the trio of operas on show present many a wretched battle between duty and desire.
27 Aug 2011
Two one-act comic operas from New York Festival of Song
The New York Festival of Song, created and run by Steven Blier and Michael Barrett, dedicates itself to what one might call “American lieder” — art songs by top American composers, classic Broadway, and operatic numbers.
In 2008 the festival branched out to present two one-act comic operas. The
two librettos by Mark Campbell center on domestic love. In
Bastianello, a new groom leaves his wedding after his wife displeases
him, and through a series of encounters with other couples, learns that in a
marriage, one must learn to forgive others’ faults. Lucrezia finds
the title character married to an older man, and seduced by one Lorenzo, but it
is Lorenzo who finds at the end that it is he himself who has been seduced.
Campbell writes some exceedingly clever lines, which sometimes zing and
sometimes — don’t zing. The actual plot shenanigans tend to be rather
cumbersome, so Campbell relies often on the unexpected rhyme to prompt a giggle
“In my heart these feelings aren’t foreign.
To end this fight/We’ll do what’s right
And flip a florin.”
That “florin” gives a taste of the rather dated genre here — if the
copyright for these libretti were 1908 instead of 2008, only the occasional
anachronism would be alarming. But Campbell does have some lines less musty and
“Is the sex cold? Is it distant? That’s a laugh. Try
All the funny lines imaginable, however, wouldn’t deepen the
characterization or supply the missing narrative interest. “Clever” can
only go so far in maintaining interest in a story and characters, even in one
act operas. The composers had their work cut out for them. William Bolcom’s
music for Lucrezia fares best, possibly because the libretto he scored
is less segregated into scenes. Bolcom is able to keep up a constant flow of
fairly attractive musical invention, shifting subtly from one mood to another.
His familiar mélange of ragtime, tango and faux-Gershwin works well for the
story. Blier and Barrett at the pianos certainly play with rhythmic flair.
John Musto’s idiom for Bastianello is not radically different
from Bolcom’s, but drier melodies and less variety of tempo makes this
shorter opera feel as long as Lucrezia. The five singers seem to be
enjoying themselves greatly, at any rate, and seen live they surely made a fine
impression. Paul Appleby has a supple tenor voice, perfect for “male
ingénue” parts. Matt Boehler and Patrick Mason take on the male “character
voice” parts and mug in ways appropriate to the settings. Sasha Cooke
captures the sly scheming of Lucrezia very well, and she and Lisa Vroman
skillfully take on multiple roles in Bastianello.
Sondheim-aficionados and fans of the type of well-trained vocalism on
exhibit here will find this Bridge recording enjoyable enough. It may not
represent the ideal calling-card for the New York Festival of Song, however.
Fortunately, that institution seems to be enough of an established success that
a calling card — as antiquated a concept as much of the libretti’s
dramaturgy — should prove superfluous.