UrbanArias: New Opera for a Young Audience
UrbanArias, take note of this name. The Dresser is excited about this contemporary opera company based in the DC area. January 14, 2011, she saw its production of seven pocket operas presented in just over one hour of performance time and walked out of the Arlington, Virginia, Artisphere giddy with delight.
Why? The performers were every bit as good as what an operagoer expects from the big opera companies and the small companies or hosting organizations like Encompass New Opera Theatre and Lauren Maazel's Castleton Festival. More importantly, the work selected showed a serious attempt to reach out to a younger audience and the sold-out audience in this 125-seat black box theater was primarily young adults in their 20s and 30s. Certainly it helps that tickets were priced at an affordable rate that was just above what a filmgoer might pay for a movie.
The seven mini-operas included:
Betty Box Office by composer Jack Perla and librettist Ken Gass
Again by composer Jake Heggie and librettist David Patrick Stearns
Trust Me by composer/librettist Seymour Barab
Maternal Instinct by composer/librettist Seymour Barab
Gallantry by composer/librettist Seymour Barab
The Act by composer Lori Laitman and poet H. L. Hix
Camera Obscura by composer Jonathan Sheffer and librettist Robert Patrick
Overall the music for these seven operas was tonal and accessible. To the Dresser's ear, the most interesting music came from Lori Laitman (The Act) and Jake Heggie (Again). Laitman's music takes more risks with tonality and Heggie's produced engaging rhythms that showed off the skills of the cast soprano Meghan McCall, soprano Edrie Means, baritone James Rogers (an eleventh-hour stand-in who did an outstanding job), and tenor Rolando Sanz. As to subject and text, all seven operas were clever and engaging at varying levels of sophistication.
Standing head and shoulders above the set of short works both for its music and text, The Act, which concerns a knife-throwing act by a husband and wife, offers lines like "love is made of danger not romance." Meghan McCall in her sensuous feathered headdress and violet gloves was fascinating to watch and hear.
She performed in five of the seven works taking on a wide array of personalities--a desperate-to-perform box office salesperson (Betty Box Office), the 1950s TV comic Lucy Arnez (Again), a manipulative maid from the wrong side of the tracks (Maternal Instinct), a knife-thrower's target (The Act), and a modern day young woman seeking love through high tech but frustrating communications (Camera Obscura). In 2007, McCall first caught The Dresser's attention when this soprano played Rapunzel in Maryland Opera Studios production of Conrad Susa's opera Transformations based on the poetry of Pulitzer Prize-winner Anne Sexton.