Review: Fresh Squeezed Opera’s Concert of Nano Operas by Women Composers

Women Opera Composers Shine in Fresh Squeezed Opera Company’s Concert

On March 3, 2017, the Fresh Squeezed Opera Company presented a Concert of Nano Operas by Women Composers at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center in Manhattan. The performance opened with the American Premiere of Nicole Murphy’s The Kamikaze Mind. Featuring a libretto by Richard James Allen, which he adapted from his book, this micro-opera utilized three singers and a piano quintet to explore the journey of a man’s consciousness floating through space and questioning the relationships he had when living.

Murphy, an Australian composer and PhD student at the University of Queensland, implemented spoken voice, humming, and wordless singing throughout to establish atmosphere. The text of The Kamikaze Mind stuck out as more cerebral than emotion-driven. The plot of the piece moved non-linearly, operating more like stream of consciousness prose than traditional dramatic writing. Sometimes the arrangement style was a bit horizontal, lacking variation in levels. However, the vocal writing was extremely well done and the use of word painting never veered into the realm of overuse or exaggeration. Overall, the gorgeous orchestral writing evoked all the immensity and fullness of space rather than its cold emptiness.

Whitney George’s conducting achieved the goal of being both clear and expressive. Her angular style served the ensemble well, expertly navigating the difficult entrances and delicate balances in the work. Markus Kaitila (piano) navigated Murphy’s lyrical writing with ease, mimicking the sparkle of starlight. The other four instrumentalists (Lish Lindsey on flute, Sammy Lesnick on clarinet, Victoria Lewis on violin, and Brian Sanders on cello) functioned like a veteran string quartet, attuned to one another and lending the focus when necessary.

Shane Brown’s baritone handled the challenge of the piece with finesse. His English diction remained superb throughout and his phrasing flowed with musically-informed shapes. Michael Celentano brought a strong and compelling tenor voice to the piece and Caroline Miller’s warm soprano introduced a necessary emotional bite to the trio while supplying her easy top to widen the vocal range of the work.

The second half of the concert featured selections from Kate Soper’s Here be Sirens. Unlike The Kamikaze Mind, this work was mostly a capella, using three voices and occasional percussion or electronics (played by the singers). Three sopranos took on this virtuosic feat of musicianship: Victoria Benson, Claire Myers McCormick, and Devony Smith. Coached by Dmitry Glivinskiy, the singers performed the musical and dramatic complexities of the piece with impressive skill.

The stylistic musical writing swung back and forth like a pendulum through the traditions of music history. Musical conventions were used sometimes for humor and sometimes for enlightenment. Soper used everything from chant-like polyphonic writing to prepared piano. She joined the musical segments with spoken dialogue, creating a dramatic experience that combined musical theater, oral tradition storytelling, and contemporary performance art.

The voices worked as a unit, blending beautifully throughout even though each soprano had a unique timbre and set of strengths. Devony Smith played the piano with ease and generally sang the lowest line in the trios while remaining dramatically and vocally present and vibrant. Victoria Benson’s shimmery soprano lit up the trio with humor and an accessible top. Claire Myers McCormick brought her warm soprano and sarcastic humor to this wildly imaginative work, balancing the other two sopranos with her strong mid-range.

It’s refreshing to find a concert dedicated to female opera composers. Fresh Squeezed chose two strong works, showcasing some of the best up-and-coming talent in this field. You can find out more about Fresh Squeezed Opera Company at their website: www.freshsqueezedopera.com.

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