Who is colluding with a spying Russia? Is North Korea still a threat? Who are the external terrorists? The internal terrorists?
The trumpeting of today’s headlines may have switched from print to Twitter, but there is an eerily familiar tone shared by now and the mid-fifties when The Lavender Scare’s whispered gossip destroyed the careers and lives of those labelled “other” by emotionally corralling and dispersing them. Based on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel, composer Gregory Spears, librettist Greg Pierce and director Kevin Newbury have given us a lyric theater history play that leaps from our soil and souls.
Spears’ bubbling melismas stutter and stammer, poised over the low droning of minimalism like human heartbeats fluttering over secrets hidden within metal filing cabinets. Along with Pierce, and championed by Newbury, Spears creates a musical language that often mimics speech; realism, when interrupted by outcries of lyricism or brilliant, choral cacophony, is magically all of a piece. When is it Sondheim opera and when is it music theater? Here is evolving lyric theater, sharing a tale in its own tongue. Newbury’s affectionate, measured hand is everywhere, painting power, intimacy and hopelessness.
Repeating his career-making role as awakener of the male duo whose relationship cannot survive the hurricane, Joseph Lattanzi projects the charisma of a Kennedy and sings like a young Hampson. This role is so internally complex that only a singer-actor could manage it. When will Broadway cast him in a play? Jonas Hacker’s innocent-awakened is a study in a lived-arc, from self-knowledge to understanding that only comes of something breaking. His bright and easy tenor serves to enlighten his character’s core.
Despite the long-awaited kissing, caressing and physical prostration of homosexual synergy by two nearly naked, model-esque artists of important voices, categorized as “opera,” I couldn’t take my eyes off soprano Devon Guthrie whenever she entered. Re-creating the character built on her emotional and vocal gifts, she is the mainstay in a senseless storm.
As our country’s terrorizing leadership marginalizes, rounds up, and ejects people by ethnicity, who will be next? Only in the relentless sharing of our histories can we clutch at buoys. This is everyone’s story and must be shared at our hearts’ campfires. (Aaron Hunt)
Lyric Unlimited at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 North Southport, (312)827-5600, lyricopera.org, $29-$55. Through March 25.