Dark Sisters: Opera Company of Philadelphia at Perelman

Dark Sisters, Music By Nico Muhly, Libretto by Stephen Karam, The Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, June 8, 10, 13, 15, 17, Review for WRTI,  90. 1 fm,

Waiting your turn with a commission has its perks. Everyone singing composer Nico Muhly and librettist Stephen Karam’s Dark Sisters at the Perelman Theater sang the premiere for Gotham Chamber Opera in New York. Now for Opera Company of Philadelphia’s turn, they have their roles down pat.  The singing is dynamite.  So are Leo Warner’s projections for this opera about polygamy in the Church of Mormon. The OCP commission with the Gotham (and the Music-Theater Group) has good things.But I don’t think the music or libretto are as compelling as this cast.

If five women with the same man is hard to figure, imagine five gorgeous voices in melodies of faith under duress.  Caitlin Lynch as the defiant Eliza is extraordinary. The singing actress conveys the doubt and anger that leads to action. Margaret Lattimore is jealous Presendia, Jennifer Zetlan: controlling Zina, Jennifer Cheek the loyal Almera. Eve Gigliotti sings Ruth, driven to despair.

Kevin Burdette is the perfect prophet/ringleader. Righteously irksome with a noble bass and stealthy presence.  As King the newscaster, he’s a study in chatty smarm.

Leo Warner’s projected skies reflect women imprisoned by their own obedience.  And better than most operas the projections give a sense of TV news.

Dark Sisters’s plot doesn’t quite work.  Too much time is spent on the back story:  Mormon mothers whose children have been taken because they married a polygamist. The fate of the children and-the fate of Eliza, the central rebellious character, is left unclear. There are red herring issues with Eliza’s daughter, which are confusing.

Gotham’s Neal Goran led Philadelphia’s 13 -piece ensemble through the drones and bells of an accompaniment that is purposefully austere. It sounds passionless, even random for a story that rouses sympathy. Opening night the playing was uneven with some screeching of a clarinet. Dark Sisters through June 17 at the Perelman.

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About valdeswrites

I write poems and essays. My commentaries about music, theater, the visual arts can be heard on the radio. I've been a piano teacher. After 25 years as an arts journalist, I find deep pleasure as a writing coach. I coach at the Alder St. Studio here in Philadelphia, and at the Muse House in Chestnut Hill. I also work with writers online. I've lived in many beautiful cities and traveled to many parts of the world thanks to my coverage of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Philadelphia is my adopted home.
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