On January 14, at Merkin Concert Hall, alumni of the American Lyric Theater (ALT) Composer-Librettist Development Program presented an opera-in-concert triple bill of scenes from a work-in-process, selections from a new work already given its premiere, and a short new work about to make its debut. Music Director James Lowe was at the Steinway and ALT Founder and Producing Artistic Director Lawrence Edelson introduced these worthy pieces and their creators.
We heard the first three tantalizing scenes from opera-in-development “Albert Nobbs,” by composer Patrick Soluri and librettist Deborah Brevoort, after George Moore’s novella. In a hotel in Dublin in the 1860s, a woman (Jennifer Panara) has passed as a man, the eponymous butler, for 20 years without detection, until her stern boss, Baker (Daniel Belcher), obliges her to share her bed with Hubert Page (Elise Quagliata), who is painting there. A bouncy ensemble for the hotel staff, “Quitting Time,” is cut short when Baker scolds them all, and an agitated trio for Nobbs, Baker, and Page follows. In an intense revelation scene, Page notices Nobbs’ corset and the butler begs the painter not to give her secret away. Page then discloses that she, too, is a woman, living as a man, who is happily married to a woman, whom she lovingly limns, raising Nobbs’ hope that the same may be in store her, though this is not to be.
Composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Royce Vavrek’s “The House Without a Christmas Tree,” based on Gail Rock’s story and commissioned and already performed by Houston Grand Opera (HGO), is suffused with nostalgia, clouded by the continuing grief of James Mills (Belcher, again the heavy), whose wife Helen (Katrina Thurman) died shortly after giving birth to their daughter Addie (Lauren Snouffer). James will not permit Addie to have a Christmas tree, a painful reminder of the untimely loss of his wife, and there is tension between father and daughter (“I want that tree gone”) and between James and his mother (veteran soprano Patricia Schumann), who tries to prevail on him to let Addie have her way (“Actually James, this is my house”). After Snouffer’s crystalline speech (“I bring great news”), as the angel in a school Christmas pageant, the clouds lift and all join in singing a rousing carol, “Gather round the Christmas Tree,” and “Promise Me,” echoing an impassioned duet James and Helen once sang to each other. Most of the action is set in the small town of Clear River, Nebraska, with the prologue (“I’m a writer now”) and epilogue (“That’s where I grew up”), the older Adelaide’s commentary, set in New York City. Gordon joined Lowe at the keyboard for the piano four hands transcription of these beautiful excerpts.
Composer Kamala Sankaram and librettist David Johnston’s short “Monkey and Francine in the City of Tigers,” a fable that keeps the listener smiling throughout, is due at HGO later in the month. Sankaram cites Bollywood, Ethiopian jazz, and salsa as the music that influenced her. Impetuous Monkey (Daniel T. Curran), set to be Monkey King someday, and his literate, clever sister Francine (Thurman), the brains of the family, sing and spat in patter, and rescue the Royal Monkey Family, not only from the wily crocodile (Adrian Rosas), but also from the tigers, who have stolen their gold and their food. Rosas plays the reigning Monkey King and, armed with maracas, the Lady Tiger, and Panara, the Monkey Queen and the Lord Tiger. Monkey acknowledges that it was his sister’s wit, not to mention a canny clue, courtesy of William Blake, that saved them, and declares that they will reign jointly. All rejoice to vibrant salsa rhythms. Percussionist Brian Flescher joined Lowe in realizing the colorful score.
On March 18, at the National Opera Center, 330 Seventh Avenue, ALT presents “The Living Libretto: Opera in Eden,” an interactive discussion, and on May 17, at Merkin, 129 West 67th Street, offers three one-act operas-in-concert. Visit www.altnyc.org
for further information.