Operagasm Review Rundown: Santa Fe’s Oscar
by Christie Connolley
The season is rolling right along at Santa Fe Opera with the premiere of a new work that was commissioned especially for the 2013 festival – Oscar, the first opera by Theodore Morrison’s opera based on the life of Oscar Wilde. James M. Keller opines in the New Mexican about this new work. Get the 411 in the Operagasm Review Rundown!
Someone got an A+ in Music History: “Morrison has provided a reactionary and sentimental score. Notwithstanding momentary bites of bitonality, an infusion of harmonic sevenths and patterns that trace whole-tones, it resides mostly in a space between Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes and Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land. Words are occasionally infused with madrigalesque depiction (“rowdiness,” “endless,” “bright”), apparently to provide outlets for Daniels’ impressive ability as a coloratura singer. The composition does not lack skill as it moves through its succession of set pieces, but it didn’t fill its 2 hours and 20 minutes with musical momentum or cohesion. The orchestration sounded disjointed and not organic, often seeming a dutiful enlargement of music that had been conceived at the piano.”
Too bad they didn’t have Prozac at the prison dispensary back in the day: “Perhaps the creators viewed the crux to be how Wilde’s inner character is transformed by the brutality he encounters in prison — how he gains humanity. But, in Daniels’ portrayal, Wilde merely advances from being sad at the beginning to being sadder in prison. One witnesses no sweeping transformation. Why, one wonders, did the story not begin with a scene in which a flamboyant Wilde might hurl bolts of brilliant banter into an adoring entourage? At least that would have highlighted the degree to which prison would break his spirit. Instead, his legendary witticisms are scattered frugally here and there, often landing with a thud; and since they appear both before and during his incarceration, their presence or absence do not betoken any profound change of character.”
All that being said, these people will sing your face off: “Surely this opera will never receive a finer performance than it did here. Daniels possesses a truly attractive, well-modulated voice, and so does baritone Dwayne Croft, who portrayed Whitman. In the dancing roles, Laplau was fluid but not emotionally incisive; some expanses (choreographed by Seán Curran) seemed to exist simply to give him something to do, and, especially in the first act, the set didn’t give him enough space to do much. The other two principal roles are ancillary in terms of the drama but, in both cases, the singers acquitted themselves splendidly. Soprano Heidi Stober, as Wilde’s friend Ada Leverson, impresses more and more with each new role; here she proved a natural actress and supported her interpretation with a richly rounded tone that suggested greater depth than we encounter in the soubrettish parts in which she often appears. Tenor William Burden, as friend Frank Harris, brought his accustomed vocal security — rich lyric tone with an urgent dramatic edge — to his rock-solid interpretation. Bass Kevin Burdette portrayed both a trial judge and a prison warden who is said to be sadistic but was rendered here with little relish.”