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In performance: Two operas from InCite Festival

Web-only review:

Boston festival brings Previn, Nyman operas to D.C.
by Robert Battey and Joan Reinthaler

Boston University is planting a large footprint in the area with its "InCite Arts Festival," an interdisciplinary presentation of music, theater and painting, including an orchestra concert Monday night at the Kennedy Center and two plays this past weekend at the Olney Theater (Jim Petosa, the Olney's artistic director, is also director of B.U.'s School of Theater).

The Festival's theme is "Art, Science, and Politics," the threads that somewhat connect the two musical plays, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," and the Tom Stoppard/Andre Previn collaboration "Every Good Boy Deserves Favor" - a now-dated work about two inmates of a Soviet mental hospital, one of whom is a political prisoner and the other a schizophrenic who imagines he hears an orchestra (and there is a full symphony onstage).
(read more after the jump)

Saturday's performance of "EGBDF" was at a high level indeed, powered by Stoppard's still-crackling repartee, though the ambiguity of the ending could have been more sharply drawn. Although it's difficult for apple-cheeked actors in their 20s to portray middle-aged, beaten-down flotsam of a totalitarian state, Duke Doyle and Alex Mickiewicz were mostly believable. The orchestra, led with precision by William Lumpkin, handled the difficult Soviet-realism-parody score skillfully, though the brass had some rough moments. (B.U. has impressive depth in its music department, as this orchestra was an entirely different group than will be performing Monday night.) Steven Meyer's set - random chairs and pieces of sheet music suspended overhead - admirably conveyed both the claustrophobia and the craziness of the play.

-- Robert Battey


* * *

It didn't take composer Michael Nyman long to glom onto Oliver Sacks's odd psychological case study of a man who couldn't connect visual images to reality. Sacks published his findings in 1985, and Nyman's one-act opera, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," premiered the next year. At first glance this may seem an unlikely subject for an opera but, in Nyman's and librettist Christopher Rawlence's hands, it is a rich and successful one. It was performed Sunday at the Olney Theatre's lab stage as part of the Boston University College of Fine Arts InCite Arts Festival, a multidisciplinary undertaking that is being offered for the first time at a number of venues in the Washington area after several such festivals in New York.

The three roles -- Dr. S, the psychiatrist; Dr. P, the patient; and Mrs. P, the patient's wife, sung by tenor Daniel Gerdes, baritone Gideon Dabi and soprano Jessica Stavros, all graduates of the B.U. Opera Institute -- were handled with skill if, sometimes, an overabundance of enthusiasm. The lab space is a small one, and Nyman often has his characters voicing their separate concerns at the same time. Add to this a clanging, minimalist accompaniment by pianist William Lumpkin, the Opera Institute's music director, and sometimes the outcome was long stretches of indecipherable text. Stavros in particular, possessed of a huge, voluptuous voice, might have helped by reining in her volume and working harder at consonants.

Dabi, who handled his whole assignment with dramatic subtlety, gets to sing Schumann's "Ich Grolle Nicht" in the midst of his agony (Dr. P is a voice teacher), and did so powerfully. And Gerdes, who presided over the unwrapping of the mysterious ailment with a delicate and quizzical touch, seemed also to guide the opera lightly in its compellingly cumulative impact.

-- Joan Reinthaler

By Anne Midgette  |  November 2, 2009; 6:15 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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