What a wonderful evening of theater. Two short American operas, narratives set to dramatic music, superbly performed. One leaves thrilled and elated.
Slow Dusk takes us from commonplace to ecstatic, to tragedy, from afternoon to dusk. Aunt Sue is shelling peas on the porch of a farmhouse in the Carolinas when Jess comes in from the fields, we learn of their concern about their niece, Sadie, who’s seeing to much of Micah — his family belong to the Truelights and they belong to the Disciples, and anyhow she’s smart and he never finished eighth grade. They’re wild for one another and agree to marry but — not family as in Romeo and Juliet — accident intervenes, as fast as it can in life.
This is Carlisle Floyd’s first opera based on his own short story: the language is at times over simple but the
music is bold, strong, apt, and intensifies the drama, and the characterizations are both archetypal and realistic. (I thought, Eugene O’Neil’s Desire Under the Elms could use Carlisle Floyd’s music.)
The voices might not have carried to the last rows of the Metropolitan Opera house but in this medium sized theater they were overwhelming and very moving. The acting, direction, costuming and setting are superb. The impact is powerful.
Wow, am I glad I’m here! I thought, almost dazed — what’s next?
Next came one of the most impactful performances I’ve ever seen. Again it’s short, a lot happens , and you’re left breathless and elated. Markheim, based on a story by Robert Louis Stevenson, takes you to London 1880, and
Christmas Eve, when an elegant man, Markheim, who has squandered his family fortune enters a pawn shop to raise cash — drug dealers will kill him if he doesn’t pay up.
Here, again, characterizations, narrative and music form a gripping whole. A confrontation between the pawn dealer and Markheim doesn’t end well as Markheim, who’s spent his life digging himself into a hole goes in deeper. A mysterious Stranger in evening clothes enters. Now, I’ve seen some wonderful Devils in theater, from Don Juan in Hell to Faust: this
is the Devil whose Hell I’d really consider. He’s sly, smart, sophisticated, articulate and choreographically active. With a Devil likethis, redemption’s a tough sell, though there is a kind of redemption …. with an awful lot of collateral damage.
The night I attended Marc Schreiner played the Stranger and he was so seductively charismatic I’d be reluctant to see anybody else in the part — what sheer fun! — and that goes for all the cast of both operas. Yet, at the same time I’d like to see the other cast since every aspect of this production is so completely fulfilled I imagine they are equally outstanding.
Because there are two casts, I’m listing here the cast the night I attended: Slow Dusk: Aunt Sadie was mezzo-soprana Jennifer Roderer, Jess was baritone Alexander Charles Boyd, Sadie was soprana Sarah Beckham-Turner and Micah was tenor Bray Wilkins. Markheim: Josiah Creach (the pawnbroker) was tenor Scott Six, Markheim was bass-baritone Jeremy Milner, Tess (the shop girl) was soprano Marie Masters and A Stranger was tenor Marc Schreiner. There are ensemble Christmas carolers.
Richard Cordova conducted the lavish fifteen-piece orchestra: the richly inventive and dramatic music heightened the emotional content and filled the theater with beauty.
The human scale, the authenticity in the costumes and ambiance as well as in the acting, the set and lighting create an extraordinary “you can’t get enough of it” visual appeal.
Just listing the performers brings back their vivid characterizations and the joy of the entire production – the joy of excellence. These operas and others of this Carlisle Floyd’s works are available on audio media but I haven’t located any videos of them. I’d sure like to see as well as hear his two-act opera Susannah.
Slow Dusk and Markheim play at 59E59 Theater, in midtown Manhattan (yes, that’s the address) in a limited run through December 14, 2014.