SIN CITY OPERA DELIVERS FIRST CLASS POSTCARD
By: Hal de Becker
The opera ‘Postcard From Morocco’ has been described as avant garde, even surrealist. It was composed in 1971 by Dominick Argento with a libretto by John Donohue. It has enjoyed critical success in productions around the country including New York, and internationally. Thanks to Sin City Opera it was finally seen in Las Vegas.
SCO’s artistically progressive and even brave decision to mount ‘Postcard’ with its 20th century dissonances, gave audiences an opportunity to expand their operatic horizons beyond the familiar melodies of Puccini and Donizetti.
Presented at Winchester Cultural Center Theater it was directed by Skip Galla assisted by Rebecca Morris. The production possessed numerous original and inventive staging ideas all of which were fully realized by the singers playing seven characters waiting on a railway platform.
Under the baton of Dean Balan, the score’s drama, wit and irony were brought vividly to life by SCO’s nine piece chamber orchestra consisting of piano, strings, brass, woodwinds, guitar and percussion.
‘Postcard’ was inspired by R.L. Stevenson’s ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’. The themes of the verses’ were transformed from innocent childhood impressions to the adult emotions and situations experienced by the opera’s characters. In a sense, the poems were replaced by postcards, both being brief but often revealing.
The opera’s title and exotic locale suggested the poem depicting a child’s view of ever changing pictures seen through the window of a speeding railway carriage. For the opera it became the passing of people and images that are gone forever.
Predictably, several of the poems deal with boyhood fantasies of sailing a boat. Their operatic parallel was an old sea captain bemoaning the past and yearning for one more voyage at the helm. The travelers protecting their luggage corresponded with a verse about the ‘treasures’ children often hold so dear and that usually, like some grown up’s possessions, have little real value.
The roles were well cast and, vocally and dramatically, the artists’ performances were exceptional. Surprisingly, and to their credit, they were as comfortable in the frequent dance moves as in the immobile tableaux.
Ginger Land-van Buuren’s powerful, agile coloratura served her well as the aggressive, often near-hysterical Lady with a Hand Mirror. Mr. Gala’s witty portrayal of a Man with a Shoe Sample Kit demonstrated his flair for Theater of the Absurd.
Katherine Gunnink as the mysterious Lady with a Cake Box was especially compelling in a touching love duet with tenor John Hammel in which she denies remembering their youthful love.
Mr. Hammel’s sensitive performance as the lover in the duet was immensely moving. Equally so was his solo in which he longs to return to the sea. In addition to his mesmerizing singing and acting, his expressive physicality and flowing arm movements attested to his consummate artistry.
As a strange foreigner and apparent cabaret dancer, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Sadownik not only sang but also danced and had to memorize the invented words of a non-existent language. Not easy to do with no definitions or linguistic frame of reference.
Youthful lyric-tenor Jack Cotterell was engaging and exuded an appropriate sense of innocence as the Man with old Luggage. Bass Peter Johnson sang well, especially his solo with the cornet case, but as the Puppeteer he seemed more fiendish than controlling.
For this production the singers were especially close to the audience and since there was no electronic amplification their natural voices and unseen vibrations were projected directly onto and into the listeners. It was a rare and truly thrilling experience.
Ahead for SCO are Tchaikovsky’s ‘Eugene Onegin’ and Chabrier’s ‘L’Etoile’- The Star.
More info at WWW.sincityopera.com.