Sunday, 27 January 2013

Review: Doubt by the Minnesota Opera

At the risk of having to do several rosaries or whatever might be chosen for penance, I have to confess that I am not fond of contemporary opera and especially not when sung in English. Most of the time if you can understand the words, then it better be really really poetic or you are going to realize very quickly how ridiculous the plot is and then who can take it seriously? Nonetheless, despite the language and the time period of origin, there is absolutely no doubt that the Minnesota Opera's most recent offering is a marvelous production and well worth hearing and seeing.

We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see the first performance of the world premiere of Douglas Cuomo and John Patrick Shanley's new opera Doubt. The story revolves around a nun's suspicions about a priest and his interactions with a q12 year old boy at their school. This does not have the makings of anything I would want to see or hear on an opera stage ever!

From the first note and opening of the curtain, however, I was entranced. For a contemporary opera, I was sure there would be a yucky minimalist set. How wrong I could be!!  The scrim was raised and before us was a magnificent church interior with pews, pillars, enormous hanging lamps and a gigantic crucifix taking command of the scene. The colors would certainly I suspected be muted and depressing! Indeed no, the main character priest is clad in a lovely green surplice, the youth choir wears red and Paul Carey gives the 1960s parishioners  a variety of colorful period clothing that draws us into the action. The music is stunning, lyrical and melodic and not just the discordant sung dialog so typical of recent opera. There is ample discordancy too, but it used to effect, which means it is interesting, novel and poignant. This is an opera that can be enjoyed aesthetically through costumes, sets, music etc. and then there is the story! And what a story! This one twists and turns, challenges us intellectually and leaves no room for the comfort of certitude.

The direction and cast are stellar. Kudoes go out especially to Denyce Graves and her deliciously honeyed mezzo voice in the role of Mrs. Miller the parent of the boy who may or may not be being abused by the priest, Father Flynn. Christine Brewer, Matthew Worth and Adriana Zabala complete the perfect ensemble. There is no weak link here and all the performances shine.

I don't want to write too much about the opera itself, because I think it should be heard and viewed fresh. If you have seen the film, you already know what to expect, but honestly I liked the opera better than the film. Robert Brill's sets were awesome (in the original sense of the word.) He is inspired in his use of the gigantic crucifix gazing down from above in the church to echo the masculine patriarchy and the way he contrasts it to a hinter garden Mary statue with her back to us to show the situation of the nuns.

The sets beautifully support the themes of the narrative and are in concord with the beautiful music which of course becomes more discordant and alienated as the opera goes on.

The bottom line is you should get tickets and get to this opera any way you can. It is destined to be one of those that becomes a classic because of its beauty, tight structure and its intellectual complexity.

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