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, June 29, 2024


        Whitney George conducting Bea Goodwin's "Paper Daughter"

There are very few people who can persuade us to depart from our customary reviewing goal--that of fostering the careers of young opera singers and encouraging the success of small opera companies. Tops on our list of such people are composer/conductor Whitney George and writer/director Bea Goodwin. We can count on this team to create works of originality and high emotional impact. Although we only had space in our schedule to see two of the six works that they presented at The Cell, we continue to hold their artistry in high regard.

Maestro George composed music for The Curiosity Cabinet Ensemble, comprising pianist Kristin Barone-Samadi, percussionist Tamika Gorski, flutist Alice Jones, and cellist Thea Mesirow.  Ms. Goodwin's "Paper Daughter" told the story of an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in San Francisco's Chinatown at the turn of the 20th c. and its effect on one family. Grandfather (Angky Budiardjono) is telling his grandson (Chu Sam) about the plague death of his mother ( Cynthia Yiru Hu) who had been adopted in an apparent scheme designed to bring Chinese children to the USA). Rob Chen played a number of parts, including a USA Immigration Officer.

Some stories are best told by essay and commentary (like some irrelevant and boring contemporary "operas") and others by original theater.  This story of anti-Chinese bias (dramaturgy by Yutong Yang) was theatrical and powerfully told; it filled us with sympathy and sadness. We were reminded of one of our earliest theatrical experiences in New York City, created (if memory serves us correctly) by solo artist Winston Tong, on the subject of foot binding--a work so powerful that we remember it decades later and can still feel the pain.

The work was part of a double feature festival entitled In the Throes of Death, produced as a tribute to the Golden Age of Radio, including "On Air" and "Applause" signs with live "incidental" music and authentic foley sounds (Patrick Litterst). We wondered whether anyone remembers the days before television when families gathered around the radio and used their imagination to visualize the dramas presented. We wondered what it might have been like to have experienced this work in a dark theater. 

We, as the "studio audience", had a different perspective, that of witnessing the actors in the drama standing in front of microphones. (Truth to tell, we found the sound design wanting and wished that the microphones had been only props. Regular readers will recall how deeply we detest amplification). The titles  (Miriam Rochford) were projected onto Chinese fans mounted on the rear wall. (Scenographer was Luther Frank with Lighting Design by Sasha Finley and 
Projection Design by Sierra Shreves).

The second half of the evening was the dramatization of "The Strange Library", a novella by Haruki Murakami.  What impressed us the most was how different Mo. George's music was from the Asian inflected melodies of "Paper Daughter". Apropos of the chilling plot of  "The Strange Library", her music served to intensify the spooky feelings of the story. There was nothing "incidental" about Mo. George's music, which was effectively realized by The Curiosity Cabinet Ensemble and sensitively conducted as only the composer can.

Unfortunately, the festival has ended but watch out for future productions by this superb partnership.

© meche kroop

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