Opera is ALIVE with Rhymes With Opera
Those who think opera is a nearly dead art form have clearly not been to a Rhymes With Opera performance. At least that’s what one concludes after hearing The Impossible She, with music and libretto by Composer Daniel Thomas Davis.
First, there is the bold stroke of the subject matter—the love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and Hick, as reporter Lorena Hickok was called. It must be gratifying to historian Blanche Wiesen Cook who described this relationship in vivid terms in her biography of Eleanor Roosevelt that Davis took her work so much to heart.
This is a work of heart, sensitively portraying not only the love story at its core but also the times and the impact that the Great Depression had on these women and the country as a whole. Anyone who has logged time in more modern labor struggles and knows the anthems, so to speak, of struggle that date back to the 30’s will likely also love the way Cook has appropriated them for interludes defining time and place sung so movingly by talented tenor Robert Maril.
THE strength though- and in no way a small one—is the original music that Davis has created in this opera. We meet a melodic theme again and again coming from saxophonist Zach Herchen, whom Davis names “Present Voice”. Herchen plays not one saxophone but just about all in the family—from bass saxophone to soprano. He sits on the stage with the three singers, at times pulled into interactions also with the radio that is playing recordings of his earlier more bass renditions of this theme. In the program notes we read how Davis conceives of this omnipresent character as being a stand in for us-- or any student of history --who by definition is history’s bystander, as opposed the real world people who lived it. For dance aficionados however who from time to time see contemporary and other dance productions where musicians mingle front stage with performers this may feel more familiar as a way to put more spotlight more on the music.
There is more to the score than the variations on this saxophone theme, but by this reviewer’s lights it could be the beginning, middle and end. It grabs you. It holds you. It charms you. It stirs your soul. And it is the reason why one hopes this opera will get the full monty treatment of more and more workshop development to fully launch this opera on one of the world’s grand opera houses where it deserves to be heard.
Some will likely love the attention getting throwing of books that snaps you into alert in the opening. And, as with other English language operas, you too may end up wishing you had the libretto given to you so you could follow it more blow by blow. That they are lesbians and in love—that’s easy to grasp—as Elisabeth Halliday as Eleanor Roosevelt and Bonnie Lander, working especially successfully against physical type as Hick, show what most of us already know--- love is love is love is love, the flavor of lesbian being not that important.
If you adore serendipity finds in music, theater and other performances, put The Impossible She on your short list of recommended top picks. More, bookmark Rhymes with Opera to see what other treasures they have in store for New York audiences.
This review is now added to the Picture This Post's OPERAS WE LOVE - roundup.
Watch this video preview--
Thru May 18, 2019 at 8pm.
Bank Street Theatre
124 Bank St
New York, NY