What a pleasure to see young composers taking their operatic work to the stage as Michael Oberhauser has done in the Capital Fringe Festival. On July 26, 2012, the Dresser saw Oberhauser's Fallen Angels, three vignettes based on Biblical tales but updated to contemporary time. Oberhauser has brought together talented young singers and musicians in combination with minimal props to create an interesting 60-minute song-cycle production.
The three sections--Lilith, Temptation, and The Name on the Door--use poems and Bible verses loosely threaded together with connecting text. The composer wrote the libretti for the first and third sections and Shannon Berry wrote the Temptation section. For the Dresser, the individual words of the text receded into the background in favor of hearing the music and seeing the singers act.
The Lilith story gave a modern telling of Adam and Eve being visited by Lilith who is angered to learn Adam has married Eve. This is a seduction story where Lilith tries to win Adam back. But not because Lilith loves Adam, it's more about her vanity and that Eve is a younger woman. Lilith also seduces Eve with a brownie because Adam has forbidden Eve to eat chocolate. It's a comic take on the snake offering Eve the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. The acting of singers Courtney Kalbacker (Lilith), Joseph Pleuss (Adam), and Shelby Claire (Eve) served the story well.
The Name on the Door story is about betrayal and abject vanity. Jezebel, played by Annie Gill, is a singer managed by Eli, played by Bennett Umhau. Jezebel loves Eli but he primps in front of her with a hand mirror. He is chasing a younger singer--Josephine, played by Zoe Kanter.
Both the Lilith and Name on the Door stories seemed similar in textual theme and musical selection, which was more dissonant than tonal. The Temptation section concerned an aging business executive who was looking forward to being reunited sexually with a younger male colleague. This part of the opera as sung by baritone Andrew Sauvageau as Stephen Carlisle, tenor Benjamin Taylor as Joshua Clark, and mezzo-soprano Francesca Aguado as Veronica James offered the most interesting music as these voices tonally complimented each other. Oberhauser's setting of Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Break, Break, Break" was reminiscent of the John Adams setting of John Donne's poem "Batter My Heart, Three Person'd God" in Doctor Atomic. The emotional intensity that Sauvageau brought to this aria helped to cement the association with this prominent Adams' aria.
In Mark Smith-Soto's poem "Café of Mirrors," the narrator addresses the questions of beauty and vanity--his and that of strangers--in a generous playing field that allows for tenderness despite knowledge that tenderness may not be justifiable. The stories of Fallen Angels verge into the human condition that Smith-Soto describes with its comic and emotional energy.
CAFÉ OF MIRRORS
Here it is again, one those moments
when human beings seem beautiful to me,
even their flaws touching, a mouth too large
on that woman, a bald spot on a boy
named Roberto, my perceiving renders
them tender, I know that they are not so,
but a knowledge within that knowledge
argues for them, gauzes each dot or blot
with a kind of love, and I myself am bettered
by this flare of neon from my head,
lighting the mirror so that I am flattered
into a grin, though I catch at the next table
a man just staring around, his goatee
diving off his chin into the rest of our lives.
by Mark Smith-Soto
from Our Lives Are Rivers
Copyright © 2003 Mark Smith-Soto