Few operas require the soprano to sing in between bites of baked goods. Contemporary opera often goes one of two ways: avant-garde and over our heads, or separate from the grand and often inaccessible genre of opera. She, After, Daniel Felsenfeld’s exploration of women in metaphorical cages, doesn’t reject its genre entirely, but it also doesn’t require a “musically informed” audience to get it or dig it.
She, After consists of two mini operas: Nora, In the Great Outdoors and Alice in the Time of the Jabberwock, both based on the lives of two heroines from literature after their moments of notoriety – Nora from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
Soprano Emily Pulley performs both roles with incredible diction and conviction, displaying unarguable musical intelligence and instinct. Contemporary opera is challenging – singing seemingly random notes beautifully while staying in character and trying to look like you’re not thinking isn’t easy (especially when the staging involves shoving cake in your mouth).
Closes November 17, 2013
1101 Wilson Blvd
1 hour, no intermission
Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Tickets or call 888-841-2787
UrbanArias, self-described as “a new opera company dedicated to producing short, contemporary operas” has been producing opera since 2010, and performing in the black box theater at Arlington’s Artisphere since 2011. Set and costume designer Valérie Bart uses the space to great effect – metal poles create the illusion of a cage, and a single white door represents “what happens after.” Bart’s costumes are delightfully inventive – Alice enters wearing her memorable, but now very “lived-in” dress, stockings disheveled and hands grasping the Mad Hatter’s hat.
Felsenfeld’s music rotates between sparse and haunting, and blooming and melodic, never veering too far in one direction. The chamber ensemble approaches this “balancing act” with precision and intimate connection under music director Robert Wood. Also worth mentioning is Beth Greenberg’s simplistic and striking staging, and Will Eno’s thought-provoking libretto for Nora. A highlight is Pulley writing her name in red lipstick across her outstretched arm, singing, “This is what a leaving woman looks like.”
Daniel Felsenfeld is writing a third act to She, After based on the life of an ex-adult film star. With the assistance of the refreshing, hip, compelling, and unpredictable troupe at UrbanArias, he may just pull opera out of its rut. “If you want a quickie, we’re your opera company.” I’m sold.
Nora, in the Great Outdoors . libretto by playwright Will Eno . Alice in the Time of the Jabberwock . libretto by Robert Coover . All music by Daniel Felsenfeld . Produced by UrbanArias . Reviewed by Rebecca Evans.