By JON KAPLAN
You can tell a story in five minutes...can you sing one in the same time?
That's the test of Opera Briefs, an ongoing series of presentations by Tapestry New Opera Works; the seventh edition ran last week.
Tapestry brings together four librettists and four composers for a 10-day workshop and presents the choicest fruits at the end of the period. The eight creators work in a round-robin fashion, regularly shifting which composer works with which word-writer, with a group of singers bringing their short works to life.
The dozen pieces we saw, all five minutes in length, were a mixed bag, but there was an impressive range of material, both musically and emotionally. In her staging, director Liza Balkan played up the dramatic variety of the offerings, accompanied by pianists Christopher Foley and Jennifer Tung.
At the light end of the spectrum was F Is For The Fear Of God, by librettist Sandy Pool and composer Glenn James. Carla Huhtanen and Peter McGillivray were teachers at an especially punishment-oriented school, warning the current pupils (which included the audience) with text inspired by Edward Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies alphabet book.
Another fine piece was Cinderello, in which Keith Klassen as a composer with an awful day job meets McGillivray as the answer to his dreams, a maestro needing both a conductor and a new score to perform. Marcia Johnson's words and William Rowson's melodies blended entertainingly, and Klassen's performance always hits solid dramatic as well as musical notes.
There was a nice ironic edge in librettist Taylor Graham and composer Stephen Taylor's Maggie's Sunflowers, with Huhtanen and Jessica Lloyd in a fantasy piece about the possibility of human resurrection in the vegetable world.
More serious was an early ice-breaking exercise for the group, an exercise that produced a pair of unusual works based on the final scene of Ibsen's A Doll's House. In the first, by librettist Alicia Payne and composer Taylor, there was a nice sense of impending tragedy in the work of Scott Belluz and Huhtanen. The second, by Pool and Rowson, reversed the play's focus; instead of the wife (Huhtanen) walking out of the marriage, it was the husband (McGillivray).
Counter-tenor Belluz gave a bravura performance in the evening's most charged work, Maleficia, inspired by a Margaret Atwood poem and written by Pool and Taylor. Belluz played a witch about to be hanged, with Lloyd and McGillivray as representatives of the community that condemns him.
The most fun show of the evening? Easy. It was Double Take, by Pool and composer Gabriel Gould, which offered Klassen and Belluz as a pair of Siamese twins with opposite personalities; the former was intellectual, the latter was physical. One wanted to read Pride And Prejudice, the other looked forward to a sexy date...in fact, he cut his shy twin out of his Facebook picture. Strapped together leg to leg, the two singers made a meal out of the short work.