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In one of its best and most cordially received outreach projects, Long Leaf Opera presented an enjoyable evening of three witty, amusing, brief operas, with clever dialogue and engaging music by composer Daron Hagen, telling stories of events that could happen only in New York. The performers in these operas were outstanding voice students from Meredith College and UNC-Chapel Hill, and received careful, detailed direction by some of their colleagues. The student performers and directors received painstaking coaching from Hagen, who has been present for the two weeks' duration of this opera workshop, as well as by Dr. Terry Rhodes, Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at UNC, and Dr. Ellen Williams, Professor of Music and Coordinator of Vocal Studies at Meredith College. The stage of Carswell Hall on the Meredith College campus was of serviceable size for the performance, which went over quite well with the same spare but appropriate set for each.
As Hagen’s synopsis of these works clearly indicated, the intimate events portrayed in these brief but quite complete comic operas bring to life events happening to real people. The first of these, "Broken Pieces," focuses on the tribulations of a middle-aged divorcee, Pamela, given delightful life by soprano Stephanie Thrum, the only Meredith College student on the program. Pamela is in need of a plumber to repair her bathroom tiles, and the plumber Antonio, sung to perfection by local professional tenor John Cashwell, arrives at exactly the right time to meet her needs. These two not only showed their considerable vocal skills but also worked admirably well together to convey first the characters’ surprise and then their pleasurable realization that a divorcee and a plumber, although from quite dissimilar walks of life, might be able to share a romantic interlude. But, as is true in many developing romantic situations in the New York world, according to composer Hagen, this one fizzles with disappointment but certainly with no wails of despair.
The second comic opera of the evening, "Just for the Night," begins with Babs, a woman “of a certain age” and her brother Chip, seemingly on the verge of putting aside whatever differences lie between them on Christmas Eve. Babs was portrayed by mezzo-soprano JoAna Rusche, who has a round, warm operatic voice that clearly suggests further positive development with more experience, and baritone William Reid, whose excellent work with Long Leaf Opera has kept him busy this month. As the opera progresses, it becomes clear to the audience that the reuniting of brother and sister will not happen, because this scenario projects the events of real life. As in the conclusion of "Broken Pieces," there is no tragedy in the ending here, when even Christmas Eve cannot bring together brother and sister. I credit Rusche and Reid with the vocal and acting skills which made the ending of "Just for the Night" very believable.
"Cradle Song," the last piece in the evening’s delightful triptych, dramatizes with humor the difficulties a couple, both composers, have in getting their infant to go to sleep so that they, after having had a night on the town, might follow suit. No doubt a number of people in the audience could sympathize with the frustrated couple, perhaps recalling their own difficulties with a baby refusing to fall asleep. The fine voices of Lindsey Dvorak and John Charles Clark were a pleasure to hear; both singers were also able actors, who had to convey one basic similarity — their characters’ increasing frustration — as the night grew older and the infant grew more wakeful. Although this unchanging situation was amusing from beginning to end, "Cradle Song" lacks the continued interest for the audience that the other two opera scenes had, largely because there is no doubt in anyone’s mind how it will end: its central action is static.
The hard work by all the students, both performers and directors, who participated in the preparation of these three delightful works, as well as the support from composer Daron Hagen, Dr. Rhodes and Dr. Williams, resulted in an evening of enjoyment and appreciation for the large audience, which included many gratified parents and friends of the performers. The fine playing of piano accompanist Frank Zachary and the excellent work of Zack Ballard, Production Manager, also deserve the acknowledgement of everyone involved in Long Leaf Opera’s substantial outreach program.
Long Leaf Opera's summer festival continues through June 21. For details, see our calendar.