Do Not Disturb is big as Fringe shows go -an ambitious chamber opera in fact, with 11 singers, 5 instrumentalists, plus stage and music directors.
As in his previous work, the “horror” opera, Children of the Mist, composer Sean Pflueger has great enthusiasm and energy for plunging into a genre and going for it with gusto. With Do Not Disturb, he’s done a complete turnabout into a full comedic farce, complete with mistaken identities, banging bedroom doors, a prancing pulchritudinous dame clad in lingerie (this one happens to be a judge,) and some close unwanted calls.
Having called in sick, a junior attorney sets off for a romantic weekend with his girlfriend, only to discover that they end up at the same resort with his boss, who has come there to have an assignation with a female judge. Things soon go awry as the two cars careen toward their destination then metaphorically “crash”, through a mix-up in names, with the young man in the first instance as Mr. Rosenblum and in the second instance, his boss Mr. Rosenburg.
If that isn’t enough comic confusion, one of the freshest aspects of this opera involves Mr. Rosenburg’s niece, Roxanne, who announces to the audience she has been sent along to spy and report on her uncle by his wife who wants to secure a high-paid divorce. Roxanne is a social media hound and spends most of her time with her face buried in her phone apps. Taking it further, two performers act as a kind of chorus playing the various apps, including the cars’ GPS embodied voices. In the first few scenes, this humans-as-devices made for some hilarity, although truthfully, for me after a point the convention grew tiresome.
The work shows Pflueger has developed a tighter control of material. Musically, the score with its peppery wordplay, full of legalese and social media lingo, has the feel of a modern Gilbert & Sullivan.
Do Not Disturb
Produced by Forgotten Opera Company
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Details and tickets
Sean Pfleuger not only composed, but co-wrote the libretto with Laura Wehrmeyer Fuentes, and he takes on the lead role in his own opera. He fully inhabits the figure of Rosenblum, the slightly uptight and overzealous attorney, and proves quite endearing, playing both the comic aspects of his character and the tender moments with equal skill.
Alexandra Friendly as his girlfriend, Emma, is a beautiful “thinking” singer-actor, who communicates both her frustration with her workaholic boyfriend and her loyalty to trying to make the relationship work. I never did understand why “Emma” always referred to herself in the third person, but perhaps it has to do with her intelligence, a woman who over-processes.
John Boulanger is most convincing as the big-shot lawyer, Rosenburg, who is used to running the world but is blind to how silly old men letches are to their wives and just about everyone around them. As it is with such men, he keeps getting caught with his pants down. Boulanger is also terrific at playing the clueless frustration of the older generation to the constant pinging, chatting and tweeting of his young niece in the back seat of his car on their long shared ride.
Michele Kunz as the judge who wants a little nookie with Rosenburg is fearless physically. Her character goes in for legal roleplay in the bedroom, and the singer has quite the aria, suggesting more than a few new tricks with a gavel. Her work with Boulanger is as funny as they are naughty together. While she sings “Let’s take our time” he’s singing “Let’s do it right here.” Their post coital scene in the second act has them singing “The Best is Us” which I think is pretty much also the best in the opera.
If we needed any further proof this week, perhaps the judge is there to remind us that judges are human after all. If you are a legal nerd, and who isn’t in this town, there’s plenty to giggle at.
A lovely 21st century-style relationship blossoms between Roxanne played by Stephanie Kruskol and Matt, the feckless employee at the resort, played by C.J. David. As a young guy who can hardly raise his eyes from his phone apps, Matt is a role David convinces us he was born to play. But this goofy man finds his girl, and Kruskol and David make their characters’ courtship scene, playing word games on their apps, to be something both totally silly and quite adorable.
Musically, the time signatures in the piece are tough. Music Director Rebecca Henry has her hands full reining in this 90-minute chariot race of a score. But she manages both the voices on stage and the small but accomplished orchestra, though there are some near hair-raising moments.
I did wish the score and direction had encouraged the singers to open up more to free their voices and float some melodic lines. The women’s vocal writing was not differentiated or balanced enough, so that a high soprano sound was heard almost throughout and in some cases sounded strained or pinched. The libretto all too often chose to use ending rhymes with flat vowels as in “back” and for some of the singers, that created a rather unfortunate glottal stop. The arias and duets in the second act tended to be stronger and more singable.
Pflueger has written a wonderful romantic aria that turns him at a pivotal moment of decision in a new direction for Ethan Rosenblum. I also loved the duet he had with Friendly as Emma. A favorite for many in the audience was Friendly singing with Denise Young as Rosenburg’s wife “That’s the Problem with Men.” Low hanging fruit, Pflueger. I’d love Pflueger to go in for more larger ensemble writing. What was there was very enjoyable.
The doors prove cumbersome and the many set changes meant the doors had to be dragged squeakily and repeatedly across the stage without benefit of making it part of the choreographed comedy.
I do like to see opera in spaces where voices of different sizes can be enjoyed, and hearing the words was a terrific bonus, all too rare in opera.
All’s well that ends well, and Do Not Disturb ended very well indeed. It is an enjoyable evening and an entertaining comic opera – a most difficult thing to pull off to my mind. The audience at Atlas’ Sprenger Theatre was good-sized and appreciative. I’d check in to this one if I were you.
Do Not Disturb. Music by Sean Pflueger. Libretto by Laura Wehrmeyer Fuentes. Story by Sean Pflueger, Mchael Hock, and Laura Wehrmeyer Fuentes. Directed by Helen Aberger. Music Directed by Rebecca Henry. Lighting by Colin Dieck. Featuring John Boulange, C.J. David, Tracy Davidson, Alexandra Friendly, Chris Herman, Stephanie Kruskol, Michelle Kunz, Sean Pflueger, Teresa Reid, Teal Thompson, and Denise Young. Produced by Carla Roundtree and The Forgotten Opera Company. Reviewed by Susan Galbraith.