We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


David Daniels, Composer Theodore Morrison, Heidi Stober and Director Kevin Newbury--photo by Ken Howard
Much of contemporary opera comes across as theater with music and Theodore Morrison's fine new opera Oscar, premiered at Santa Fe Opera, is just that.  The text has been adapted by John Cox from quotations by Oscar Wilde himself and by his contemporaries.  It is a sad story of persecution of homosexuals by the British justice system.  The story telling makes it clear that Mr. Wilde contributed to his own downfall by letting his love for "Bosie" (Lord Alfred Douglas) cloud his judgement.  His pretty young lover had a big grudge against his father The Marquess of Queensberry and used Wilde badly by pushing him to sue his father for libel.  This resulted in Wilde's conviction for committing "acts of gross indecency" resulting in a two year sentence to hard labor and solitary confinement.  By the end of the opera, our hero has become a broken man but enlarged in spirit such that he is admitted by Walt Whitman into the hall of literary immortals.

Director Kevin Newbury did a fine job of limning the story.  Conductor Evan Rogister conducted briskly.  The music is powerful and is in many places closely allied with the words but not always; at times it seemed as if Morrison were trying for an ironic effect.  There are some arresting uses of winds, percussion and harp.

The set by David Korins with lighting design by Rick Fisher created some vivid images suitable to the story.  The very Victorian Redding Gaol where Wilde was imprisoned was frighteningly convincing.  Costumes by David C. Woolard were appropriately Victorian.

Famous countertenor David Daniels was convincing as the eponymous hero; indeed it appears that the role was written for him.  There are vocal melismatics reminiscent of Handel.  There is a wonderful warm scene in Wilde's friend Ada Leverson's nursery which she has offered to him when he has been denied lodging all over London.  Soprano Heidi Stober portrays this character beautifully and their singing about Wilde's preference for absinthe is delightful.  In this scene they are joined by Wilde's other friend Frank Harris, sung by the always excellent William Burden.

Another wonderful scene--this one upsetting, not delightful--occurs in the prison the night before a man will be hung and the inmates are mad with anxiety; this was a case in which the music reinforced the text.  As awful as the prison was, Wilde did enjoy a modest period of kindness from a kindly warder named Thomas Martin, sympathetically portrayed by fast-rising baritone Ricardo Rivera, also seen as an unpleasant hotel manager who refuses Wilde lodging. 

The scene in which Wilde's show trial is staged as a farce with nursery toys re-enacting the proceedings is a directorial marvel.  The very funny bass Kevin Burdette portrayed Mr. Justice Sir Alfred Wills and the Jury Foreman was portrayed by Reuben Lillie.  Mr. Burdette was also seen as the vicious Colonel Isaacson who ran Reading Gaol with an iron fist.

The prologue and epilogue featured a fine Dwayne Croft as the American poet Walt Whitman who befriended Wilde.

Several apprentices appeared in smaller roles--Patrick Guetti as a pompous butler, Yoni Rose as a bailiff, Aaron Pegram and Benjamin Sieverding as detectives and prison warders--the latter joined by David Blalock as patients in the infirmary.

Having the role of "Bosie" taken by a dancer instead of a singer was an interesting decision and Reed Luplau was a fine casting choice.  Choreography was by Sean Curran.  So, instead of some love duets between Wilde and Bosie, we got to watch some fine ballet because Bosie's image appeared regularly to Wilde.  Although Bosie managed to forget Wilde and leave the country, Wilde remained deeply affected by his love for Bosie.

This was a worthy entry into the world of contemporary opera and we were glad for the opportunity to attend its premiere.

© meche kroop

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