In review: Three Way
Rarely do we find a postmodern opera that builds in time for audiences to belly laugh, a postmodern opera that encapsulates the complexity and depth of evolving identity and sexuality, and a postmodern opera that is both elegant and accessible.
In Nashville Opera's production of Three Way, with music by Robert Paterson and libretto by David Cote, we find a postmodern opera with all of those things, simultaneously. This production levels the audience's playing field in a sophisticated way: pairing common, yet updated, operatic tropes with relevant, topical humor and relatable music. That Nashville Opera is premiering it just adds to the innovation: exposure to culture so outwardly, unabashedly about sex (whatever form it takes) will very likely challenge the typical Nashville Opera patron (#biblebelt). Three Way manages to take a subject that is most taboo, particularly in the American South, and – I think, I hope – manages to inspire its audiences to a greater understanding of their fellow person…which is something we all super need right now.
But: it isn't unlike watching a TV sex scene with your dad…things get pretty real and potentially uncomfortable.
Three Way is made up of three one-acts: The Companion, Safe Word, and Masquerade, with a small cast for each. The Companion is a look into the not-too-distant future: Maya, sung by soprano Danielle Pastin, experiences varying levels of discontent with her companion, an android, all the while yearning for the perfect mate. Samuel Levine sings Maya's companion, Joe, in a consistent, colorful tenor that subtly develops as Joe’s character evolves. Ms. Pastin's solid technique and clarity highlights the depth of her voice. Her timbre pairs well with Mr. Levine's and with Wes Mason's as Dax, a field IT agent. Mr. Mason’s powerful, expressive baritone is better suited to his role in the third act (Masquerade), though, that is true of all three singers. Something in The Companion seemed to not quite gel.
I was wary, then of the remaining acts in Three Way, but was very happily surprised. In Safe Word, mezzo Eliza Bonet and Nashville Opera fave/babe Matthew Treviño play a dominatrix and her client, respectively. The Client's character demands a very wide scope of contradictory emotion in just one act, and Mr. Trevino seamlessly moves through that scope – even when he's in a dolly dress and a wig of ringlets while singing a rather sinister aria. Mr. Treviño's robust and impactful bass voice led us through a fairly dense narrative, equaled by Ms. Bonet's bright voice and sincerity in her characterization. At times April Ludgate-esque, Ms. Bonet as the Domme oscillates between innocence and experience in a most pleasing way. Safe Word probably puts its general audience instantly at some level of discomfort, and (TWIST!) leaves us feeling introspective about what darkness is in our own desire.
The Masquerade was my favorite of the night, including all the aforementioned singers and adding soprano Courtney Ruckman as Jessie, mezzo Melisa Bonetti as Tyler, and countertenor(!) Jordan Rutter as Kyle. The scene is easily recognizable as a swingers’ party (not that I’ve been to one), the couples present being a "groovy" country club couple (sung by Ms. Pastin and Mr. Mason), a WASPy, normy couple of thirtysomethings (sung by Ms. Ruckman and Mr. Levine), a pair of post-gender partners (sung by Ms. Bonetti and Mr. Rutter), and the hosts (sung by Ms. Bonet and Mr. Trevino). As the characters abandon their paradigms and some inhibitions, they reach out to grasp a deeper understanding of each other and themselves. This is best exemplified in Mr. Ruckman's treatment of Kyle, whose (long) aria takes us through some of the complexities of gender identity and fluidity. I'm here for an opera that explains to straight people what being trans- or cis-gender is. Hopefully, we as the audience come to a deeper understanding with them.
Three Way marries wit and poignancy, and it's fun to think about its treatment of sexuality parallels that of classic operas – and to pick out the homage to classic operas (a masquerade, a mezzo in pants – how Fledermaus!). A wild addition to the season, Three Way enjoys a fine premiere at Nashville Opera, running until January 29. The production will go to Brooklyn Academy of Music in the spring, and that's a really good thing, because a lot of people should see this opera.