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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Nuptial! The Musical

I skimped on an opera report. I did not write about Lyric's world premiere of A Wedding, and I don't intend to write much about it, because I intend to write much about the much worthier Fidelio.

So, briefly, A Wedding. The libretto was commissioned from Arnold Weinstein and Robert Altman (yes, that Robert Altman) by Lyric. It's based on Altman's 1978 movie, which is a basic class/culture clash event. I've never seen the movie, although I diverge from the opinion that has been expressed to me on many occasions that "women don't like Altman movies, because they're sexist." My dears, if I winnowed the sexist things out of my cultural consumption, you could serve it in a contact lens case.

A Wedding is funny. There's no getting around that. It's also tragic. And tragically funny. There's drug addiction, there are complicated family legacies. There's old money and new money and inappropriate infatuations. And just when it seems that everything is utterly superficial and lighthearted, there's some fairly serious gender bending that resulted in quite a bit of stunned, uncomfortable silence from the Lyric audience (I'm sure this perception is unduly influenced by the fact that we had an obnoxious, very vocal teenager sitting behind us, but I think there was still a very noticeable "That's not funneh" vibe in the house).

The performers were pretty swell for the most part, both singers and nonsingers (of which there are many) alike. Lauren Flanigan as Tulip was charming and funny. Poor Catherine Malfitano was saddled again with another un-fun role (I've seen her as Kundry in the execrable Parsifal from a few years back). Victoria's role isn't particularly large, as she's mostly wandering around stoned, so I was sorry not to hear more of her. Kathryn Harries as Nettie and Aunt Bea brought terrific humor and pathos to both roles. Plus, an oil painting of Muffin's boobies. Heh heh. Seeing Mark Delavan as Snooks was the perfect compensation for poor Malfitano as Victoria. He was Amfortas in the same production of Parsifal. Seeing him stretch out and have tremendous fun in a role was excellent.

Overall, it's not an opera to get much of a strong sense of anyone's voice, though, and that's only partly a comment on the music. The music was pretty much all that can be negative about post-1902 opera---it's often jarring, structurally it's disjointed, and much of it is meant more to make an auditory point than to be pleasant ("The question is, will they listen?" "No, the real question is: Will they have ears?"). Even more than that, though, is that Tulip (and Snooks in his single big number) is really the only character who has enough continuous music that one gets a real sense of her voice.

The costuming and set design also indicated that the Don Giovanni design was an unfortunate aberration. The Sloan women were in sleek dresses in icy shades of pewter, lilac, and blue, that just oozed confidence and entitlement. Muffin's side of the family took up twice as much personal space with their voluminous chiffons in bright pink, lemon yellow, tangerine and, for Tulip, an earthier copper and green gown.

The set was particularly effective in its evocation of a Barbie Dream House-type arrangement. It consisted primarily of a long, curving staircase connecting two levels of square, shadowbox rooms. Most of the family interactions occurred up on the second level, with bare space below, giving the more intimate scenes a hollow feeling layered under even the comically crowded scenes at Nettie's deathbed. The transparent fabric making up the columns and pediment of the overdesigned entryway was a nice cap to the "pretend play" feeling of the entire set.

So, on the whole, I'm not going to be anxiously awaiting a recording of this opera, but it was a worthwhile performance in other regards.

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