New York is rich in tiny upstart companies working to find ways to make opera engaging for new audiences. Fresh-Squeezed Opera stands out among these for its impressive commitment to championing new works. Nearly all of its performances so far have been premieres.
FSO’s Friday evening performance at Roulette in Brooklyn in fact featured three commissions, each about 20 minutes. These felt more like one-voice oratorios than operas per se, though that may have been in part because they were performed without staging.
The evening’s title, “The Female Gaze,” nodding to the concept of “The Male Gaze” that originated in critical film theory, might have set the audience up to expect a more pointed reversal of that phenomenon than was apparent. But what FSO offered was compelling enough on its own: three accomplished pieces by female composers, for female singers, about female characters.
First of the three was Whitney George’s Lost Without You, conducted by the composer herself. George’s text is somewhat opaque, made up of fragmentary recollections of emotions and experiences rather than putting together a clear narrative. Part of the mandate for the commissioning project was the use of electronics, and George’s solution is to add more voices through recorded sound, opening with a chorus of whispers and echoing the singer with her own voice. Mezzo-soprano Nicholle Bittlingmeyer was admirable in her approach to a tough, high-pushing vocal part: she couldn’t help sounding tight in her upper range, but she consistently showed a warm, deep body in the voice.
Lost Without You’s orchestra of viola, cello, bass clarinet, piano, and percussion keeps a nearly constant pace, hewing close to a central pulse. A feeling of added momentum is achieved through subdivision, but the same m