Monday, June 18, 2012
Five of Aesop’s fables have been reinterpreted and set to music in Jonathan Price’s AESOPERA playing at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at the Pasadena Playhouse through June 24th. Billed as a pentaptych chamber opera – fancy language for a 5-part sung-through performance – AESOPERA is presented at music stands, with minimal yet elegant staging by Kirk Arnold Smith and Alison Eliel Kalmus, that highlights Price's luscious music and the intriguing emotions of its stories.
The first act contains three sections beginning with The Inventor & the Riddle, a dramatic piece in which a man asks the Oracle of Delphi (Brooke Derosa, Elyse Cook and Nandani Maria Sinha singing in glorious 3-part harmony) for the secret of how to build a flying machine only to change his mind when the price of success becomes too high. Jeffrey Stackhouse gives a compelling performance as the Inventor, with Miguel Vargas as his Son and Jonathan Medina as the General. Libretto is by Price and Jan Michael Alejandro.
In The Fisher & the Wishes, a poor fisherman receives three wishes from Lady Fortune but finds you can’t please everyone when he accidentally brings bad luck to one daughter by using his first wish to bestow good fortune on the other daughter. He tries to right the situation with his second wish but only reverses their circumstance…until he finds a way to use his third wish to the advantage of them all. A lyrical moral dilemma with a happy ending, it features libretto by Jeff Goode.
The final piece preceding intermission is The Queen & the Dragon, and my personal favorite of the five. Based on Aesop’s fable, "The Dog & His Shadow," it is the bittersweet tale of a woman in love so determined to have what she cannot that her jealousy destroys the very thing she adores. Too late she learns that sometimes it is better to be content with what one has, rather than pursue the desire for more. A recitative opening gives way to beautiful soaring melodies as Price and Alejandro’s libretto explores a very contemporary controversy within this traditional tale.
Two vastly different mini-operas, The Lion & the Wood Nymph and The Frogs & the Crane, both featuring librettos by Price, make up the second act. The former is a dramatic ode to the power of love in which a lion (a terrific Miguel Vargas) sacrifices his teeth and claws in order to marry a girl then sadly loses her anyway, and the latter is a comedic twist on the story of the frogs, who beg Athena to send them a queen. She first delivers a Queen Log, then a Queen Eel, but neither is good enough for the frogs so she sends them a Queen Crane…and now they’ve got big problems. Elyse Cook shines in her hilarious portrayal of the three queens in this crowd-pleasing finale that features a comical chorus of ribbiting frogs.
Collectively the pieces make a sophisticated evening of classical entertainment. Chad Parker’s dramatic lighting and Kirk Smith’s Grecian set dressing feel sleek and modern. Remaining performances of AESPOPERA are June 23 at 8pm and June 24 at 2pm at The Carrie Hamilton Theatre, 39 S. El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, CA. For tickets go to www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.
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