Say “Horror Opera” to fans of either horror or opera and they are as likely to cheer as they are to groan. Will the horror be hamstrung by a cast constantly breaking into song? Will the traditional elements of opera be mistreated in service of the fantastic plot? Although the answer to each is, at times, “yes,” Children in the Mist largely avoids these pitfalls.
In Children ‘s best moments the melodrama of opera and the suspense of Stephen King’s story complement each other enough to satisfy fans of both genres, creating a fun spectacle of blood, violence, and song.
Children in the Mist follows a plot-line familiar to anyone even loosely acquainted with King’s writing: the average inhabitants of Anywhere, Maine, are visited by the supernatural when an ominous mist rolls in from the sea. The townsfolk shore up at the local grocery story, the setting for much of the opera’s action, and wait for the mist to clear. It doesn’t. They panic. Soon the townsfolk find themselves fighting each other as well as the supernatural creatures that begin attacking them from the mist at night.
The balance of action and operatic exposition makes for a strange rhythm (A character singing about the blood on his arm, for example, soon undercuts the shock of his bloody appearance). Stephen King’s workman-like prose is best encountered briefly, and is not much improved by being drawn out for further examination in repetitious songs. The result is as often engaging as it is unintentionally comical. But the enthusiastic cast, led by Sean Pflueger with break-out supporting roles by Anamer Castrelos’s devious Mrs. Carmody and Alisa Kieffer as a stellar damsel- in-distress, carry the show through any rough waters.
The combination of Pflueger’s score and the ensemble’s singing at times creates an eerie resonance that is perfectly suited to the subject.
The crew finds inventive ways to use light, darkness, and obfuscation to create atmosphere in a spare set (But no mist! None!). The shrieks come mostly from the stage, but each is answered in turn with a hearty laugh from the audience (a note to horror opera producers: half a corpse is more terrifying than a full corpse any day). Although audiences of Children in the Mist are unlikely to leave clamoring for further operatic adaptations of King’s entire catalog, they will have to admit they had fun watching innovative Riverbend Opera Company’s clever mash-up.