Chicago Classical Review » » Rough Edges Need Polishing In New Opera From Cult Film “La Jetée”

by Seth Boustead The Pier was premiered by ACM and the Chicago Fringe Opera on Tuesday night at the Constellation. Photo: Elliot Mandel

It seems rather presumptuous of Access Contemporary Music and the Chicago Fringe Opera to charge up to $30 for admission to a workshop the execution of a collaboration billed in advance as a concert performance.

A fine distinction, perhaps, but the bands owe it to their respective supporters to be more candid about whether their first joint venture is a finished piece of musical theater awaiting full staging, or a work in progress. Classes.

There was no escaping that last impression during Tuesday’s premiere by ACM and Fringe Opera of the pier, an 80-minute adaptation of writer-director Chris Marker’s cult 1962 sci-fi film of the same name. The enthusiastic audience that flocked to Constellation Chicago in the northwest of the city learned of its studio status around this time. The event was broadcast live and a repeat performance is scheduled at the club on Thursday evening.

While the premiere of this new chamber opera in its current form – with music by Seth Boustead (executive director and co-founder of ACM) and libretto by J. Robert Lennon – had its rough edges, there were enough things in the score and its performance by a cast of four solo singers, ACM’s 13-member Palomar Ensemble, and the Lux Cantorum Chicago Chamber Choir to suggest the collaborators are at least on the right track.

Even allowing for the inherent limitations of a concert version, there were also scenes that died out dramatically or weren’t backed by music of more than merely utilitarian function.

The film’s disturbing story about a post-nuclear war time travel experiment gone wrong – which also inspired director Terry Gilliam’s film 12 monkeys (1992) – is both expanded and made more universal in this operatic narrative. The moral: Human existence is just a time loop from which there is no escape from the madness of humanity.

A gruesome war has devastated the planet, prompting pseudo-scientists working in an underground laboratory to send prisoners to different time periods in hopes of finding a way to restore order. The opera’s protagonist, known only as The Man, is chosen to travel back in time due to his ability to withstand the shock of time travel and his obsession with an image from his childhood, that of a dejected man and a screaming woman. .

The Man is sent back to meet the woman of his childhood. She calls him her “ghost” from a dream. They begin a romantic relationship. Their happiness is interrupted by the scientists who send him to the distant future from where he can obtain a “power unit” that miraculously restores the world to its pre-war state. It is only when he finds the woman who has long haunted his subconscious that he realizes that the man whose death he glimpsed as a child was himself.

The libretto, made up of a succession of short, unobtrusive scenes, often jumps from present to past and future so quickly that the plot can be confusing to anyone who has not seen the original film, even with supertitles describing the invisible. dramatic gesture. (“Man returns to the Present, bringing a gift of great power” is a good example.)

To his credit, the opera The Pier To some extent expands on an element that Marker’s half-hour film only superficially deals with – the affair between the obsessed time traveler and the mysterious woman who has haunted his memory since his youth. Their love blossoms in a shimmering duet crowned by a soaring solo violin, on delicate undulations of strings, piano and flute.

Musical highlights like this justified shooting The Pier in an opera. Too bad much of the rest of the score is boring and uninspired. (A rewrite would surely help before the piece hits the stage.)

On Tuesday, conductor Catherine O’Shaughnessy beat time efficiently and kept everything moving efficiently. But the instrumental playing did not always come alive with the necessary musical punch, and we wanted more nuanced contributions from all the winds, brass, strings, percussion and piano. One exception was the excellent keyboard work of Amy Wurtz.

Samuel Dewese brought a palpable lyrical intensity to his singing as The Man, even in a performance that found the vocal soloists bound to their desks. (Fringe Opera’s George Cederquist was named director.) Dewese’s rock-solid vocalism laid bare the troubled psyche of a time-unmoored protagonist, hopelessly mired in the untouched innocence of his childhood memories. .

Dewese and Brennan Martinez, as The Woman, blended the vocals in touching fashion. She wrapped her well-schooled, sensitive soprano around the character’s singable vocal lines with equally precise expressive aim.

Dorian McCall sang strongly as the second experimenter, but Isaac Fishman only made a tentative impression as the first experimenter. The brief choral interjections were skilfully taken up, if not always with optimal integration of the voices, by the 18-member chamber choir.

The Pier will be repeated Thursday at 8:30 p.m. at the Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave. constellation-chicago.com; chicagofringeopera.com

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