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The Lucy Opera--High Stakes Love

lucy baby.jpgUrbanArias, a small opera company producing short contemporary chamber operas has outdone itself with its production of Lucy, a 60-minute, one-man show dealing with human love misapplied. Kelley Rourke has written the libretto centered around a real-life family who decided in 1964 to raise a chimpanzee as their own child. For eleven years, the couple--Maurice Temerlin, a psychologist, and his wife Jane, a social worker--conducted a psychological experiment to see if nature or nurture would win out. John Glover has created a musical foundation that both supports the single player on stage as well as revealing the primal emotional payload of a human trying to love and train an animal to be human. Robert Wood as conductor provides passionate energy to an ensemble of seven that includes a toy piano.

Glover supported baritone Andrew Wilkowske by giving him necessary breaks from singing with musical interludes. For example, during one interlude, Wilkowske signs many of the words Lucy learned from her expert teacher primatologist Roger Fouts. On April 1, 2017, the Dresser saw Wilkowske, the outstanding singer who created the role for the world premiere in 2012 by Milwaukee Opera Theater, give an over-the-top performance which expressed the complex feelings that Temerlin had for Lucy. Through word repetition and syncopation, the music digs in deep to reveal something primal about Lucy's foster father. We hear that Lucy's love of unending repetitious play was exhausting to Maurice Temerlin as was her sporadic "accidents" that deposited feces throughout the Temerlin house. The loss of friends and family who would not visit and the people in their community who would shout and repeat "no pets allowed in this store" took its toll on the Temerlins.
Andrew Wilkowske.jpg
What convinced the Temerlins that Lucy could no longer live with them was a series of violent incidents. In the end, the foster father who called the adopted "daughter" precious darling sent Lucy to a rehabilitation center in Gambia. To ease the chimpanzee's transition into a wild habitat, Temerlin hired a graduate student to accompany Lucy. The Temerlins already knew that Lucy did not relate to other chimpanzees.LUCY mature.png

What gives the opera variety are video projections and oral recordings that put the wife and other figures, including Lucy, into the room. We see Lucy's tea set, her one-armed teddy bear (other arm torn off leaving a gaping hole), and her child-sized human bed on stage. Wilkowske immense emotional output carries the load for anyone else mentioned. It's easy to believe that Maurice Temerlin was thoroughly Lucy's father--that he cared for her beyond all logic as any parent would for his or her offspring.

In Bill Yarrow's poem "The Vig of Love," love is framed as a gambler's expensive bet. As a witness to the opera Lucy, the Dresser wonders what the real-life Maurice Temerlin was wagering regarding his inhumane experiment that affected not only an innocent animal but his family which included his wife and the unmentioned (in the opera) son Steve. The stakes were very high.


Love's expensive. Who can afford it?
So you borrow from the bad guys, lay
your body down for collateral,
but the vig's ridiculous. No choice
but to pay and pay. Every day it's
just a matter of interest. You'll
never even scratch the principal.
But love's a gamble, right? Sometimes it
comes up red. Other times, it comes up
black. Go ahead. Put down all you're worth.
Hope for the really really big score.

by Bill Yarrow
from The Vig of Love

"The Vig of Love" copyright © 2016 by Bill Yarrow


Comments (1)

Teri Rife:

What an original idea for an opera. So glad you attended and shared your experience with us. Excellent choice of an accompanying poem, too.

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