|Angela Dinkelman, Lydia Adelle Brown, Caroline Worra, Billy Huyler, Laura Virella, and Alexander Mason|
Last night we attended the opening of Utopia Opera's production of Some Light Emerges. In an original concept by co-librettist Mark Campbell, five very different characters are profoundly affected by visiting the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas. That we cared about the follow-up, in which we learn about their futures, testifies to the superior performances of all six cast members whose acting was as fine as their singing.
Caroline Worra is completely believable as Dominique de Menil, the society matron/philanthropist who established an ecumenical sanctuary in Houston, commissioning canvases from Mark Rothko. It was interesting that when Rothko butted heads with architect Philip Johnson, the latter was replaced. The chapel opened in 1971. Not only did her character have several monologues (one could not call them arias) but she remained onstage throughout the performance, gazing benevolently upon the five individuals who visit during different time periods, each one delivering a monologue. The theme is that each is transformed by the artwork.
Billy Huyler portrays Tom, a visitor from the hinterlands who comes to enjoy some air conditioning--an escape from the Texas heat. Unwittingly he becomes subject to the power of the art and returns from time to time.
Angela Dinkelman plays the role of Margie, a housewife/mother who is enjoying a day of self-indulgence which includes dining on frog's legs at a French restaurant. She returns also but with a twist we will not reveal.
Laura Virella was totally convincing as a Latina lesbian who has come to the chapel for a memorial for a friend who died of AIDS. She too has an interesting twist in her future. What goes around, as they say.
Alexander Mason took the role of Albert, an Algerian immigrant working in IT who is bearing the brunt of hostility toward Middle-Easterners just after 9/11. He is in fact a Berber.
Lydia Adelle Brown gave a convincing performance as Cece, an African-American teenager from New Orleans who has been uprooted by Katrina and taken in by a Houston family. She is filled with anger but her exposure to Rothko's paintings, encouraged by her teacher (guess who!), produces a profound change in her future.
After all those monologues, it was a pleasure to see a couple of the characters interact toward the end.
If you love stories like this, which we do, you will enjoy this music-theater piece. If you love Rothko's art, which we do not, you will also enjoy this work. And if you are a fan of contemporary opera you will find much to enjoy here.
Our feelings about Laura Kaminsky's music are mixed. The instrumental music, as performed by some superb musicians under the baton of Maestro William Remmers, is sometimes lyrical and, at other times, jarring and disharmonious. (Guess which we liked!) But there is nary a suggestion of a pleasing melodic line for the singers, which seems to be the current standard for contemporary opera. That Ms. Kaminsky is celebrated is a fact-- but we still didn't emerge from the 75 min. piece with a desire to repeat the experience.
Lochlan Brown was impressive on the keyboard and we particularly appreciated the sonorities of the winds (flute, bassoon, and trombone--quite an unusual combination). We also noted the interesting percussion.
The libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed (who also partnered with Ms. Kaminsky for the recently reviewed As One) was wordy and reads better than it sings. It might have worked better as a play. Actually, we perceived it more as one of those one-woman plays in which a gifted actor plays all the parts. We loved Mr. Campbell's libretto for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, seen at Santa Fe Opera--the review of which can be found by utilizing the search bar. In that case, his words and Mason Bates' music seemed to work well together. We did not have that experience on this occasion. One might say that the light that emerged did not enlighten us.
Stage Direction by David Schweizer was simple but appropriate, as was the simple costuming by Eric Lamp and Angel Betancourt.
We missed melody and we missed Maestro Remmers' pre-performance dry humor in his role as Artistic Director. We didn't see hide nor hair of him until he ascended the podium!
(c) meche kroop