Opera Review

The following is reprinted from the Tallahassee Democrat, 29 May 2005, with permission.

Summer, in the world of concert music and opera, is usually a time of lighter, "pops"-oriented fare and a relaxed atmosphere. At institutions with large and prominent opera programs, such as Florida State University, the summer is also the time for directing students to stage productions of one-act operas as part of their academic programs. Because these projects are often the first time these students are in charge of a full production, the operas mounted and the productions themselves frequently are at least a little outside the mainstream.

This was the case at FSU's double bill of Leonard Bernstein's domestic dramedy Trouble in Tahiti and Luigi Dallapiccola's totalitarian nightmare The Prisoner on Friday and Saturday evenings at Opperman Music Hall. The operas were chosen by the directors, Tracie Pope (Tahiti) and Tal Shahar (Prisoner), independently, but the evening as a whole provided an unsettling view of two very different, and very modern, ways of being trapped.

Sam (Evan Jones) and Dinah (Melissa Vitrella) are no longer communicating. In an attempt to avoid their problems, they decide at the end of the opera to go see the new film, Trouble in Tahiti, which Dinah already saw that afternoon. A trio (Christopher Diaz, Lisa Kotara, and David Margulis) comments on their life like a chorus in a Greek tragedy.

Ms. Pope's staging was inventive and engaging, though I found the mugging of the stagehands as they moved the scenery superfluous and distracting. An instrumental trio (Music Director Elizabeth Blood, piano, Sergio Acerb, bass, and Dave Cochran, percussion) provided lively accompaniment. Krista A. Franco's scenery rendered the '50s suburban milieu subtly and directly. All of the singers were in fine voice, and they handled Ms. Pope's blocking and Marko Westwood's choreography with style.

While Sam and Dinah's marriage leaves them feeling trapped, the incarceration of the unnamed protagonist of Dallapiccola's Prisoner is quite literal. His predicament is rendered concrete and personal in the composer's searing Modern, lyrical score. Ms. Shahar's production eschews specifics as to time and place, so the Prisoner's plight is universal. Ian Zywica's abstract scenic and lighting design was uncomfortably claustrophobic and transgressive. At times the light's shone at the audience, and felt as if you were under the gaze of the Inquisitor yourself.

Ms. Shahar's staging was lean and minimal, letting the music and the singers speak for themselves, for the most part. A Dancer (Terence Duncan) was a distraction, though he danced well. Lara Billings delivered a heartbreaking performance as the Prisoner's Mother and Aaron Beck was all false hope and bureaucratic emptiness as the Jailer/Inquisitor. Music Director Eric Schnobrick conducted a taut, well-paced performance, with FSU Professor Douglas Fisher and Ms. Blood on piano and a fine chorus in the pit.

Scott MacLeod dominated the proceedings as the Prisoner. He communicated anguish, fear, and exhaustion in his voice and in the demanding physicality of the role. It was a challenging role in a challenging opera. The Prisoner is not easy in any sense of the word, and the prolonged ovation by the audience was gratifying on many levels.

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