Saturday, June 15, 2013
HALF SONG-CYCLE, HALF OPERA, ALL WONDERFUL
The first act--John Adams in Amsterdam: a Song for Abigail--gave stellar baritone Peter Kendall Clark (barely recognizable without his beard) an opportunity to use his sizable round instrument to express the various emotions experienced by the statesman who would become the second president of the USA. He was not very enchanted with the French but grew increasingly delighted with the Dutch, having been sent there as ambassador and raiser of funds for the struggle for independence. He writes to his wife (my "dearest friend") and describes his ever-growing reputation in Holland as well as his longing for home and family. He warmly describes the Dutch as learned, artistic and hard-working with a penchant for skating and mushrooming. He sorely misses his family and expresses his longing for home and family as well as his fear of isolation from the prospect of being a man of importance on the world's stage. Ha!
The second act--Abigail in the Colonies: a Song for John--permitted soprano Victoria Tralongo to create a character any woman could identify with. She is a courageous woman, a feminist and an abolitionist who wants the same freedom for slaves as the colonists are demanding from Great Britain. But she is still a woman and yearns for "sentimental effusions of the heart" from her husband, enduring a decade of separation with love and fidelity. If there is one song in the work that best stands alone as a concert aria it would be "Loneliness". We wish to quote the moving first line: "If you should lie awake and call my name". There is also a slightly more lighthearted song, lighthearted yet serious in its description of the effect of war on the women left behind--scarcity of food and medicine, inflated prices, the presence of the enemy, illness and death--but above all, a need for PINS! The stalwart Mrs. Adams wants Mr. Adams to send her lots of pins that she can sell in the colony.
Terry Quinn was responsible for developing the libretto from the actual letters in the historical archive and Gary S. Fagin wrote the music. Our regular readers likely know how unimpressed we are by contemporary writing; so our praise for this score is doubly remarkable. The string quartet was an excellent choice for this lyrical and evocative music; string quartets were popular during the latter part of the 18th c. Mr. Fagin's music held our attention throughout; it had a martial flavor when war was discussed and a decidedly romantic flavor during the recitations of longing. It was always singable.
Guest conductor of the Chelsea Opera String Quartet was the renowned conductor Jorge Parodi; musicians were violinists Garry Ianco and Bruno Peña, violist Cait O'Brien and cellist Jameson Platte. Maestro Parodi's affection for the score was evident in his expressive conducting.
The work was given an effective staging and costuming by co-producer Lynne Hayden-Findlay; she wisely kept the singer (and letter writer) in the foreground with just enough movement to illustrate the text and the recipient of the letters in the background going about their daily routine. The two singers, clearly chosen for their splendid voices, were bewigged by Andrea Calabrese and appeared totally convincing. We especially loved watching Abigail performing her chores, embroidering and baking bread. The set by Leonarda Priore was simple but worked well--a writing desk, a table and chair, a coat rack, a quill pen and other similar accoutrements of 18th c. life.
The nine-year old Chelsea Opera, founded by Ms. Priore and Ms. Hayden-Findlay, has a lot of wonderful productions in store for next year but don't wait. Enjoy this splendid event TODAY!
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