Bumping elbows at CFO's Long Christmas Dinner Gabriel DiGennaro and Jesse Lyons in The Long Christmas Dinner, Chicago Fringe Opera, 2018. Photo: Victor LeJeune.

Bumping elbows at CFO's Long Christmas Dinner

Emma Kelley

As the holidays come charging in this time of year as they always do, some of us lucky ones are reminded of our forever dysfunctional families and their baggage (literal and figurative). The Long Christmas Dinner holds no exception for troubled families with its dramatic one-act plotline. I was treated to an evening overflowing with emotion and a winding story by the Fringe Opera Company’s production of The Long Christmas Dinner at the Chopin Theatre.

The first act treated the audience to a series of “parlor songs” from the singers, evoking an environment of Christmas Eve in a 1930’s parlor. Each song was punctually different, from the chuckle-inducing “Refrigerator 1957” by Ralph Vaughan Williams sung by mezzo-soprano Naomi Brigell, to the emotional “Sleep” by Ivor Gurney sung by tenor Jonathan Zeng. Another noteworthy performance was the mesmerizing Anatoliy Torchinksiy at the piano for his performance of “Ballad Op 10 No. 1” by Johannes Brahms.

Gabriel DiGennnaro and Jesse Lyons in The Long Christmas Dinner, Chicago Fringe Opera, 2018. Photo: Victor LeJeune.

The organization was an effective way to ease an audience into perhaps a new experience for some. It was almost a familiar christmas playlist, with a collection of talented artists. My partner and I enjoyed ourselves during intermission debating which song was our favorite in Chopin’s saloon-like waiting area.

As the second act began and I diligently avoided walking on the winding stage to get to my seat, The Long Christmas Dinner commenced. The “alternative” opera company made effective use of Chopin Theatre’s intimate downstairs performance area. The stage included a winding spiral catwalk around the audience, who were sitting along different sections of each stage avenue. This setup allowed for an extremely intimate production for the audience, with some of the artists singing quite literally right in front of you.

While this stage direction always proves for an interesting site, it’s also inevitable for some audience members to lose sight and hearing of the singers. The artists did their best to direct their projection to everyone equally, but it couldn’t help change the fact that every mark inevitably had an obstructed view at some point.

The cast of the evening provided a delightful handful of talented singers, that when singing directly in front of you, one couldn’t escape the fantasy of having your own personal opera performance.

Our performance date featured Melissa Arning as the mother and cousin Ermengarde who opened and closed the production. The soprano commanded scenes, conjuring a mother pleading to keep her family together as she begins to watch it fall apart.

Jesse Lyons and Zachary Angus in The Long Christmas Dinner, Chicago Fringe Opera, 2018. Photo: Victor LeJeune.

Soprano Jessie Lyons went hardly unnoticed as Lucia, who spent most of her time on the winding stage, alongside Jonathan Zeng as Charles, whose charisma and stunning tenor voice required the attention of all attending. The audience also couldn’t ignore Andrew Groble’s thunderous baritone voice that was a delight for the ears, with additional support from Naomi Brigell emotional performance of the slowly deteriorating Genevieve.

While the production budget was humbled to a Anotoliy Torchinskiy’s talent was captivating to watch throughout the entire performance.

Fringe Opera did right by casting singers who could carry such emotionally saturated scenes. The production is a definite “don’t miss” that you would be wonderful to bring a Christmas posse to or, as some of our characters prefer, celebrate alone.

Gabriel DiGennaro in The Long Christmas Dinner, Chicago Fringe Opera, 2018. Photo: Victor LeJeune.

With just 5 exclusive shows, the remaining performances are Nov. 29th and Dec 1st at the Chopin Theatre 1543 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60642.

For more information and tickets, go here!

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