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Fade: State of the Art Versus Green

For as much as the Dresser would like to see every new American opera that comes to the stage, the commitments of daily living, particularly family events, often compete for the same schedule. Because the Dresser had been following the mounting numbers of productions for Stefan Weisman's and David Cote's Fade--there are now four that were presented in Philadelphia, London, San Francisco, and New York, she was eager to learn more about this 30-minute opera and therefore sent dramaturg Maxine Kern to hear the work. Here's what Ms. Kern had to say about Fade.


On July 17, 2009, Stefan Weisman's one-act opera Fade written with librettist David Cote was performed at Galapogos Art Space in Brooklyn. The work, developed in a 2008 libretto workshop by AOP (American Opera Projects) tells the musical story of an increasingly strained relationship between a young couple who are moving into a new state-of-the-art house in the country. Their relationship fades as their dreams and plans for the house come into conflict and end in disappointment. This realistically depicted story achieves larger dimension when dreams are sung by AmyvanRoekel.jpgGertie, the wife (soprano Amy van Roekel), and Hays.jpgAlbert, the husband (Jonathan Hays), and countered by cautionary musical inflection in the singing of the housekeeper (mezzo Pamela Stein) who sees the flaws of this anachronistic edifice and wants only to get home as soon as possible. pamelastein.jpg

The character of the music changes as the three people realize their positions and come to terms with the house itself. The new house, a six-bedroom summer home, replaces Gertie's grandmother's old mansion. At first the housekeeper sings with rich, carefully chosen words and she is addressed with sweeping romantic dialogue, mostly expressed by Jonathan Hays as Albert, with his strong and flowing baritone. The dialogue itself creates suspense immediately, questioning everything. What is the housekeeper's name? What is in the boxes that are collected in the house? Are there still ghosts here from the old house that has replaced the new? The housekeeper, a young woman alone with two children, muses about whether she would like to live in a big house like this one miles from town and tucked into the woods.

For a short while, humor surfaces in the face of suspense and questioning as the wife grounds the conversation in contemporary concerns about eco-friendly values, which get short shrift in this outsized mansion. The husband engages the housekeeper in a friendly contest to dismiss these concerns about too many rooms. The music does a fine job of pacing the delivery of these arguments in overlapping and ongoing dialogue. When the subtext between the couple overwhelms them into dismay, the music fills in for deliberate gaps in their singing. As such the music continues the original building of suspense, this time by indicating an underlying emotional tension, which chokes up their dialogue.

After that, the dialogue and the music allow for arias and contrasting sounds and rhythms. The wife's arias are sweet, romantic and soaring, taking on a Straussian quality; the husband's, perfunctory yet strong. The suspense is diminished, even as lights in the house go out. At this point, the composition tries to regain its original storyline about what will happen, yet also reflecting the fading of the couple's energy and their mutual but discordant disappointment. The continuo, a repetitive musical style in the manner of Philip Glass which has maintained an underlying presence throughout the piece, takes prominence, but it lacks color and becomes monotone. With diminished emotional energy concluding the opera, Fade lacks the musicality in the end to maintain the richness of the musical storytelling initiated at its beginning. While this follows the theme of an overly strained relationship, it also runs out of steam musically, which disappoints and disengages this listener from the story and the operatic experience. The challenge here is to have the relationship fade while keeping the audience attentive and involved.


stefan150.jpgIn 2008, the Dresser interviewed Stefan Weisman for an article on how an opera is birthed. In that article, she spoke with Weisman about his opera Darkling based on the poetry of Anna Rabinowitz. There will be a production of Darkling in Philadelphia this fall.

The Dresser was pleased to see that the libretto of Fade is offered in full on the composer's website, making easier for her to understand Ms. Kern's remarks. David Cote's libretto is worth reading on its own. Cote posts regularly to Histriomastix, his theater blog.davidc150.jpg

In her poem "L'Affaire Dictation" from her new chapbook American Gothic, Take 2, Maria Terrone competes with computer technology for her husband's attention. In Fade, the state-of-the-art house doesn't match up to the wife's principles for a "green" house or to her memories of what the former house belonging to her grandmother meant to her in terms of family relationships. More and more, technological advances interfere with human relationships.


And like music on the waters
Is thy sweet voice to me.

Lord Byron

My husband is alone behind a closed door
without a phone and yet he speaks,
repeats himself in the slow, deep tones of Thor.

Just training the software, he says. Merde!
I know this geisha was created
to treat men like gods, hang on every word,

flatter by mimicry. He doesn't know
I've peeked, seen his eyes read the monitor
like a love letter, that I've heard him roll

out sweet nothings like taffy--a mantra
of syllables to stamp his voice
on her brain. After a month of this drama,

they're so attuned, she speaks his lines,
plucks words from the oblivion of air
and saves them in on-screen valentines.

Dinner at eight all right? I call, slipping
inside their den. Caught off guard,
he shuts down mid-sentence, as she spits

back, Beginner, hate all night!
my rival's feeling toward me
revealed in glaring black and white.

by Maria Terrone
from American Gothic, Take 2

Copyright © 2009 Maria Terrone


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 22, 2009 8:53 PM.

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