| Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, TX
Fort Worth Opera
|Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, TX, 525 Commerce St., Fort Worth, TX 76107, United States|
Sunday 3-Jun-12 02:00pm
The Fort Worth Opera closed their 2012 Festival on Sunday afternoon with the second of two performances of Mark Adamo’s Lysistrata, or the Nude Goddess. After hearing a strong Marriage of Figaro at the festival Friday evening, I had fairly high expectations, some of which were met, others not.
Lysistrata was one of two regional premieres at this year’s festival, the other being Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers. While I did not have a chance to hear the latter, programming Lysistrata was certainly a wise choice. Mr. Adamo (b. 1962) may not have met his lofty goals of illuminating “the psychology of warriors” or exploring in depth the nature of conflict – violent or non-violent – between human beings. (His program notes articulate what exactly he aimed to emulate in Aristophanes’ play, and what he changed in order to “humanize” its characters and plot line.) Nevertheless, he has an extraordinary ear for vocal writing and a knack for theater, and has written an engaging, coherent, and beautiful work.
The English-language libretto, written by Mr. Adamo, retains the basic outline of the ancient Greek comedy. In an attempt to give the characters greater depth, it also adds a central love story, between Lysia (Lysistrata) and Nico, an Athenian general, and features two other couples: Leonidas and Lampito on the Spartan side, and Kinesias and Myrrhine of Athens. The text was very clever, though a little heavy on goofy wordplay (of “We’re down on our Peloponnese” caliber). Whereas Figaro had been accompanied by supertitles in English and Spanish, Lysistrata only used the former; a Spanish translation would have been a lost cause on Sunday, as so much was made of Mr. Adamo’s strong and deviant wit.
The music of Lysistrata resembled the scenery on a train ride: rapidly changing and complex in transitional passages, and expansive, easier to decipher and gorgeous whenever we reached an aria. The lyricism and stronger basis in tonality make the listener emotionally identify with Mr. Adamo’s characters, and the pacing, transformation of motives, and dissonance in between imbue the work with edginess, mystery, and of course conflict. The Fort Worth Symphony were more than up to the challenges presented by this thorny score. Maestro Joe Illick’s energetic leadership of the orchestra was great, and his interaction with the singers even better. There were a couple of hectic assaults of misaligned consonants in ensemble vocal numbers toward the end of the show, but he allowed the vocalists great freedom and paced the whole opera beautifully. And a few poorly tuned unisons could be forgiven; after all, the FWSO have been quite busy this month.
Text and music were rendered with great feeling, and skilfully, too, though the acting was a mixed bag. In general, the directing did not seem as exceptional as it was in Friday’s Figaro, with some scenes coming across as tentative. This was a strong cast vocally, in the lead roles at least. (Lesser parts were sung well, but the timbres and sizes of voices presented problems when trying to match.) Lysia was played by Ava Pine, a wonderful soprano with a huge range and command of an even, communicative tone in every register. Exactly the same could be said of tenor Scott Scully, as the earnest and stoic Nico. Soprano Ashley Kerr lent a powerful voice and exceptional musicianship to Myrrhine. Both supporting male voices (the outstanding baritone Michael Mayes as Kinesias, with Leonidas sung by bass-baritone Seth Mease Carico) inflected their parts with great humanity and supple, warm tone. Mezzo-soprano Alissa Anderson played up the campy accent, half German/half speech-impediment (think Elmer Fudd singing Tannhäuser), of Lampito.
After all the innuendo and silliness, the opera takes a serious turn in the second act, with the women explaining their commitment to pacifism by mourning loved ones lost, and eventually ending with a peaceful, solemn a cappella epilogue. I was glad to have heard Lysistrata, as this was only its second professional production since being jointly premiered in Houston and New York in 2005-6. But I was even happier to see a mostly-full house enjoying a contemporary work, and encouraged to hear several in the audience expressing a desire to hear live opera more often.