Experiments in Opera: ‘Flash Operas’

United StatesUnited States Various: David Bloom (musical director), Rob Reese (director), Elyse Kakacek (soprano), Kate Maroney (mezzo-soprano), Timothy Stoddard (tenor), Eric McKeever (baritone). Symphony Space, New York City. 6.5.2017. (DS)

Jason Cady: Voices in My Head
Miguel Frasconi: Things You Should Know
Cristina Lord: Pledge Drive
Nicole Murphy: Mandela Was Late
Aaron Siegel: The Wallet
Matthew Welch: Level

As the genre of opera expands, the length of the opera seems to be shrinking—but not for the worse! Composers are deepening their creative tool kit with pocket-sized slices of life. To their credit, mini-operas embrace themes of everyday life and the unmarked experiences of everyday humans—voices that have been typically overlooked by operatic tradition.

Under the auspices of the innovative composer-driven initiative, Experiments in Opera, six composers wrote fifteen-minute works for Flash Operas at Symphony Space. These six engaging works were tightly reworked short stories, all energetically presented without intermission. The performance, directed by Rob Reese, had a “binge-watching” draw that would have any Netflix watcher hitting “next episode” long past a reasonable bedtime.

The breadth of human experience that flashed through these 90 minutes included a comedic Kickstarter-like hipster fundraising pitch, a mind-boggling conversation with Nelson Mandela’s myopic parole officer, a soon-to-be father deeply obsessed with leveling his baby furniture, a tollbooth worker thrown into moral quandary, an educated narrator questioning the basis of his knowledge worth, and a buffoon-like party “animal” unsure of his (or her) relationship to alcohol or, perhaps, schizophrenia – presented with the utmost slapstick hilarity, of course.

Amid this theatrical array, Mandela was Late by Nicole Murphy stood out as capitalizing on the power of the short opera to relay the invisible story of the nobody in society. In an invented conversation between Nelson Mandela, played by Eric McKeever, and a parole officer, tenor Timothy Stoddard brought gravitas to the ignorant main character. His blindness to Mandela’s greater global significance does not belittle him so much as paint him as a tragic, disconnected “Everyman” figure of modern society – both unexpectedly moving and disheartening.

All parts were played by the same group of singers, who swiftly changed character with ease and punctilious shifts in acting. They convincingly relayed moods of tragedy, satire, the banal, and humor that created the necessary context in the few minutes available to them.  While it may have gone by in a flash, each episode left a lasting mark.

Daniele Sahr

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