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.

Saturday, April 6, 2024


Philip Stoddard and Katherine Henley

(photo by Russ Rowland) 


                Katherine Henley and Claire Leyden

                 (photo by Russ Rowland). 


How interesting that our companion for the evening (an opera singer) came up with the same thought as we did at the conclusion of Heartbeat Opera's production of The Extinctionist. "This would have made a great play!" Upon return home we took a look at the program for the first time, only to learn that the work was adapted from a play by Amanda Quaid!  She wrote the libretto for this work, which is the first commission ever made by this risk-taking company.

There seemed to be two interwoven themes at play. One was a woman's fear of bringing a child into a dying world and the other theme being marital discord over the issue of starting a family. Fortunately, the play is not polemic and leaves the audience to decide for themselves. Good theater makes us think. We have heard that art is a mirror that gets us to see ourselves plainly.

Th woman in the story is well performed by Katherine Henly and her ambivalence about pregnancy resulted in palpable anguish. That she is the only character who feels threatened by catastrophic global warming makes us focus on her dilemma. On the one hand, a potential child comes to her in her dreams and we learn that she and her best friend, winningly played by Claire Leyden, had long planned to get pregnant at the same time (as did two sisters of our acquaintance). On the other hand, she is terrified by what she alone perceives as the end of the world as we know it.

A meeting between the two women had our main character shocked and distanced by her friend's rapture at being pregnant. "How could anyone bring a child into the dying world?"--a thought we ourself have shared.

The woman and her husband had been trying to achieve pregnancy for some time and one gathers that they may have married believing that they both wanted the same thing. The husband, ( played by Philip Stoddard) is not exactly sympathetic.

The most awkward scene we have ever seen onstage was the woman being given a pelvic exam by her gynecologist and later given a diagnosis which we will not reveal. We do wish the production team had consulted  a genuine doctor as we found a couple inaccuracies in the dialogue and action; but perhaps the scenes with the physician (played by Eliam Ramos) were meant to be the woman's perception, rather than reality.

The work was well directed by Shade Ghaheri and Kate Noll's scenic design was stunning.  The couple's bedroom was tasteful and modern, indicating that they were financially comfortable. It occupied one side of the wide stage whilst the other side served at times as a living area and at others as a gynecologists examining room. Bare trees and dying plants were scattered about the stage.  Reza Behjat's lighting design subtly contributed to the mood of each scene  Projection design by Camilla Tassi was apt, as is seldom the case. Scenes of weather disasters served to remind us what stirred the woman's anxiety. Costume design by Haydee Zelideth and Asa Benally was apt. The child puppet, created by Afsaneh Aayani, was adorable.

So, Dear Reader, as drama it worked.  But, and this is a big but, this was billed as an opera. Was the music good? Yes, it was. Dan Schlosberg's original composition for piano, violin, viola, electric guitar and percussion would make an excellent curtain raiser on any symphonic program. 

Although the instrumentals served to heighten the mood, the vocal lines were entirely unmusical. We wondered how the cast managed to learn their parts. And to sing with such excellent diction! This is a common feature of contemporary operas and the reason that they are rarely seen a second time. We want to leave the opera humming a melody.  Our brains are programmed to want this!

It is likely that some of you, Dear Reader, will disagree with us and that is fine. We all attend live events for different reasons. We would just as soon have seen the play.

© meche kroop

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