« Sharpen Up Your Knife, Mackie! | Main | Long Limb, Upper Palate Inform Crashing Home »

Love's Comedy--An Opera with Strings Attached

Suddenly the Dresser is sorry she never learned Norwegian, not even one word when she was smitten in high school with a Norwegian exchange student who called himself Sandy. This sorrow followed the one-performance-only concert premiere of the musically rendered Love's Comedy by composer Kim D. Sherman and librettist Rick Davis based on Henrik Ibesen's play and adapted by Leon Katz.


While the Dresser does not agree with the creators that June 21, 2008, premiere of Love's Comedy is an opera, but rather a highly entertaining and satisfying work of music theater with a dash of Sondheim (think "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" from Sweeney Todd), this disagreement in no way diminishes the accomplishment. For starters, the setting of Katz's adaptation and Davis's libretto is beautifully rendered. Though the libretto and the performance delivery of the text did not always match, clearly indicating a work still in progress, the overall effect was impressive and made the Dresser wish that she could understand Ibsen's play written in verse to compare the two scripts.

What is the story about?--Svanhild, a young woman unable to break the bonds of home and community that keep her from realizing her potential. (Yes, this is typical Ibsen fare.) Her chance arrives when Falk, a young poet staying at her mother's boarding house and eschewing conventional love and marriage pursues her as his muse. He wants her as his kite string and she says get lost. However, after he confronts her community concerning how marriage kills love and the community ostracizes him, she falls for the poet and is ready to hit the road. However, Gulstad, an older businessman stops them and questions what happens after the first flames of love die and says that she has a choice. The choice is run off with Falk and see how long love lasts or let Falk go and marry the financially comfortable Gulstad (the gold man as his name seems to indicate). Love's Comedy 3small.jpg

Photo by Rick Davis


The story of Love's Comedy reminds the Dresser of Scott Wheeler and Romulus Linney's Democracy: An American Comedy, another tale of love, marriage, community mores, and choice. Both of these musical works offer characters who throw a monkey wrench into the stew of love. In Love's Comedy both Gulstad and Falk stir the pot in what the Dresser would say is a community divide between acceptable (Gulstad) and unacceptable (Falk) behavior. In Democracy, the Baron Jacobi, who also acts as a narrator talking directly to the audience, plays a naughtier role and spirits more than one woman away from a conventional marriage.

What is also significantly different about these two works is the musical styles. Though predominately tonal, Democracy with its under current of dissonance and diatonic harmonies makes it clearly a contemporary opera. Although the second act of Love's Comedy offers a darker mix of lyric music, the overall effect of the work demands little of the audience and falls squarely into the category of entertainment and not art that pushes the boundaries. The Dresser does not think this a failing on the part of the composer but merely a choice. After all, Stephen Sondheim refuses to call his musical works operas and the Dresser thinks Sherman and Davis should be proud to name Love's Comedy, a work of music theater.


When the Dresser's friend Janet Peachey told her about Love's Comedy which was having its premiere at the George Mason University Center for the Arts, the Dresser was hoping that Internet research would indicate no particular incentive to trek out to Fairfax, Virginia, taking time away from a paper she is writing for Lifting Belly High: A Conference on Women's Poetry Since 1900. However, the Dresser was immediately intrigued by the composer's website listing the accomplishments of Kim D. Sherman. Furthermore, the concert performance was fluidly stage directed by Rick Davis and musically directed by Stanley Engebretson with outstanding performers, particularly in the roles of Svanhild (soprano Abigail Shue), Falk (baritone David Schmidt), Svanhild's mother Mrs. Halm (mezzo-soprano Linda Maguire), Svanhild's sister (soprano Danielle Talamantes) and Anna's fiancé Lind (tenor Matthew Loyal Smith. And quite frankly, the Dresser grooved on the ensemble which kept bringing back the refrain "soft, soft summer's day" which made her think of beloved medieval songs about nature and also the current summer's day in DC which was temperately warm and a joy to experience. Then too, this is a play dealing with writing plays and is suffused with well-turned phrases. What more could the Dresser want for a engaging entertainment?

If the Dresser had any complaints (besides what genre to categorize this fine work), she would first direct them at Ibsen. Most people are not Ibsen scholars and would be hard pressed to recognize that this title belongs to him. We know A Doll's House but not Love's Comedy. Usually when creators of an opera or music theater piece base their work on an existing literary masterpiece, the title chosen matches the original work and gives the opera collaborators a leg up on piquing audience interest. The title Love's Comedy, without association to Ibsen, does not raise much interest, at least not from the Dresser who might be jaded by the number of works she has run into with this kind of title. Finding a good title is hard work and probably if this were the Dresser's work, she would go with an appended subtitle, maybe something like Love's Comedy: The Temptation of Svanhild.

In "House of String," Grace Cavalieri presents a modern day Ibsen doll constrained by her gender in a culture that keeps women in check in ways that are laughably trivial and painfully tragic. Cavalieri's doll is the notorious Hollywood figure Anna Nicole who like Svanhild must deal with metaphors of mighty birds (Svanhild's Falk is the falcon as suggested by his name while Anna Nicole is plagued by ravens who gather on her roof) and strings that tie women to other people.


Anima, Anna's twin, died at birth. Now she was her
Angel of Contradiction.
"An Ambitious woman is a sad woman,"
Anima said. She corrected everything Anna did.
An angel with envy?
Against the Law of gravity,
she appeared in the mirror saying "Do God's works."
Anna knew only God could do God's works,
and said so. Anima laughed that broken crystal laugh.
Dear Abby, Anna wrote. I have
this frigging Angel whispering
in my ear saying abortion is against
the law, saying I got an award I didn't deserve,
saying eye shadow is out of style.
Anna wished her name were STAR BUCKS
Couldn't that be beautiful? Then she
could sell latte with a tear
in the foam and charge extra.
She always knew Anima was around before she came.
A flock of ravens would gather on the roof.
If each person's relationship to another
was a piece of string. And it went from one to the other...
like the drama coach said..
Well who held up Anima's part?
Anima sang a song right in Anna's ear. She was a
bright light in Anna's head that wouldn't go off.
Anima was an animal always inside,
awake, ready to pounce on Anna.
After the Award ceremony, Anna's mother had
grabbed the silver loving cup. When Anna grabbed
The trophy back, it was hot with her mother's hand.
Anna dropped it. She didn't want it anymore.
Anima sang "Oh the love of the ideal" all night long.
"Oh the love of the perfect face keeps us from
loving people" sing sing sing...
"Hollywood is where you go to die"
String string string... Anna wanted to climb inside
the blue noxzema glass and sleep blue
never wake up.

by Grace Cavalieri
from Anna Nicole

Copyright © 2008 by Grace Cavalieri


Comments (3)

I have long admired Karren Alenier's ability to bridge the poetic consciousness between music and words---in her own compositions as well as in her analytical articles. To find my own poem used as part of the pattern is a zenith moment. ANNA NICOLE never found herself in such esteemed company before and she thanks author Alenier. GRACE CAVALIERI

Thanks for the insightful review of Love's Comedy. The genre question (is X an opera? or if not, what?) is of course a lively one and not fully answerable. But I believe that if Kim and I had called the work something else, it would be off-target as to the level of musical difficulty of the principal roles, and the thoroughness with which the musical design is carried through the piece. Nonetheless, it's a fun conversation to have and many now-classic operas have begun life under other classifications. It's all, finally, "dramma per musica" as the old Florentines would say. Thanks again for coming and for your very fine response.


"Dramma per musica" -- the Dresser grooves on that and especially since it comes from the old Florentines. Again, it's all a question of what's in a name.

Post a comment

Use this form to place a comment to a post in the blog. You must include a valid email address for spam protection. Please see our Privacy Policy for details on how your private information is used and protected. Your comment will be posted as soon as it is reviewed by the blog editor.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 22, 2008 4:03 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Sharpen Up Your Knife, Mackie!.

The next post in this blog is Long Limb, Upper Palate Inform Crashing Home .

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.