Room & Board hosts hilarious triple-billReview
As my faithful readers at Schmopera will likely be able to tell by now, the Boston opera scene is chock full of companies exploring possibilities in staging opera in unusual venues, in everything from basketball courts to brewery rooms and ice skating rinks, all with mixed results.
Of all of these experimentations, however, the last place I would have ever expected a series of three short operas, staged was a furniture store. Such a venue is almost antithetical to any kind of theatrical performance, never mind an opera: with most of the seating and setpieces available for sale, and with many of the spaces somewhat confined, one would be easily led to believe that one would be hard-pressed to make a performance work in a furniture store.
It was a very effective staging of an already excellent piece.
And yet, something about the confines of the store were perfect for producing the triple-bill of short operas by Jonathan Bailey Holland that graced Room & Board, courtesy of Boston Opera Collaborative, and it led to a very entertaining, and frequently hilarious, night at the opera.
The first of these operas was Always, an opera which explores the beginning and the ending of a romantic relationship: the caveat here is that it shows both at the same time, with the younger couple’s hopeful banter coming into sudden contrast against the older couple’s bitter argument as it crumbles apart.
It’s a work of jarring juxtapositions, and Bailey Holland’s music is able to keep up the pace with a score that nimbly flips between the comedic, the heartfelt, and the violent without ever feeling like one portion is interrupting the other. The staging, however, did not opt for the “separate tableau” approach that others might have gone with, perhaps owing to how small the staging area was.
Naomi is opera at its most bafflingly, hilariously absurd, with the death of children being discussed with the same severity as the weather.
Instead, Wes Hunter and Carley DeFranco’s younger couple danced around the same couch as Ethan DePuy and Tamara Marsan-Ryan’s older couple. This tight dance actually had the effect of concentrating the audience’s attention on the same spot, and the fact that our attention was not pulled every which way allowed the audience to focus on the rich tapestry of human drama that the whole affair played out across its short ten-minute runtime.
It was a very effective staging of an already excellent piece, and I must say that it is wonderful to see stage director Ingrid Oslund redeem herself after her questionably thought out Silla earlier this year.
This was immediately followed by The Battle of Bull Run Always Makes Me Cry. Those of you who remember my first Opera Bites around this time last year will remember that I had some lovely things to say about this short opera, and with decreased distance from the date to Carina DiGianfilippo’s relation of it to her two friends the whole enterprise came to life even further. There is not much the tight staging added to what was already strong about the piece, but nevertheless it remained a strong performance, even if the blocking did seem to be trying too hard to add comedy to what was already perfectly amusing material.
But the furniture store as theater really came to life in Naomi in the Living Room, based on a play by Christopher Durang. At the top of the evening, stage director Patricia Weinmann mentioned that the couch on the small stage was a smaller couch than the libretto specified, due mostly to space constraints on how the stage was built in the venue.
Her feigned orgasm on the couch elicited such strong laughter that it paused the show for nearly one whole minute.
For me, however, the small size of the couch rather worked in this production’s favor, for the juxtaposition between the actual size of the couch and the title character referring to it as her “big couch” only added to the insanity that was found pretty much everywhere else in the opera.
After all, Naomi is opera at its most bafflingly, hilariously absurd, with the death of children being discussed with the same severity as the weather, a man who crossdresses and angers his mother when he chooses to mimic his wife instead of her, and Naomi’s almost schizophrenic eccentricities that simultaneously beg for and deny explanation; thus, touches like this only amplified the utter absurdity of the subject, and amplified what was already great about the material.
It does not hurt at all that, as is usual in performances like this, the singer-actors that ran around the second floor of Room & Board were more than up to the acting challenge that performing so close to the audience came with: they had almost no room to hide, and the singers all met the demands of the work without sacrificing anything in the beauty of tone.
I can’t wait to see what companies like Boston Opera Collaborative do with such spaces in the future.
The cast of Always displayed this brilliantly, particularly with Hunter and DeFranco’s lovestruck puppy performances, but special mention should be made for Carina DiGianfilippo and Junhan Chois easy chemistry in Battle of Bull Run.
But this really came to a head with Lindsay Conrad’s turn as Naomi: her facial expressions and her versatile voice jumped around with the flow of Bailey Holland’s chaotic music so masterfully that she quite literally stole the entire evening, and her comedic timing was so spot on that it left the audience laughing loudly enough to drown out the music in some places, and that’s to say nothing of how her feigned orgasm on the couch elicited such strong laughter that it paused the show for nearly one whole minute while the audience gathered its bearings.
In such a tightly-organized performance, it is difficult to find anything to really criticize, and that is really a testament to the quality of the performances that graced Room & Board. This was an evening of opera at its finest, with plenty of both human drama and comedy to spare. It is yet another testament to the success of attempting to perform operas in unconventional spaces that has overtaken the city’s opera scene, and I can’t wait to see what companies like Boston Opera Collaborative do with such spaces in the future.