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VOIR DIRE

VOIR DIRE

Professional World Premiere
Composed by Matthew Peterson
Libretto by Jason Zencka & Matthew Peterson
Sung in English
Fort Worth Opera Festival

Fort Worth Opera

Conductor – Viswa Subbaraman
Director – David Gately
Scenic Designers – Richard Kagey & James Koehnle
Sound Designer – Ra Byn Taylor
Costume Designer – Meredith Hinton
Lighting Designer – Nicholas Cavallaro
Hair and Makeup Designer – Robin Daffinee Coulonge
Stage Manager – Samantha Greene
Assistant Director – Joshua Miller
Fight Choreographer – Jeremy Stein
Repetiteur – Stephen Carey

CAST:
Soprano – Christina Pecce
Mezzo – Anna Laurenzo
Tenor – Andrew Surrena
Baritone – Trevor Martin
Bass-Baritone – Nate Mattingly


Reviewed Performance: 4/23/2017

Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Although the title of this chamber opera, Voir Dire, is a French phrase, that means “to see, to speak” this opera is performed in English and is the Fort Worth Opera’s 2017 Opera Unbound production for the festival. This shocking opera is comprised of true-crime stories in fourteen related scenes that are of weighty nature. It may challenge your tolerance for violence and gore, but at the same time, it will likely satisfy your appetite for virtuosic and stunning music… if you possess one, that is.

Thus, come to this production knowing that you may not have an easy time digesting a 90-minute performance even though it’s in English. And, do not bring children as child pornography is graphically addressed. I found that my sensibilities were challenged by the telling of these crime stories that poked at what I had previously believed truth was. But, I come to the opera to moved! The drama depicts the gut-wrenching capabilities that humans have, but also includes lighter comical moments that give the viewers achance to heave a sigh and laugh for a moment.

Musically I found much to feast upon in this world premiere. I shared with a fellow musician that I thought he’d enjoy this work and, upon reflection, I wondered if “enjoy” was the right word. Yet, I knew that he’d find it musically satisfying. Emotions and interweaving of time are shown in brilliant ways in the vocal lines and the instrumentation. Composer Matthew Peterson has created an exquisite web of sound in his composition. He gave the singers, of which there were only five, a challenge and a workout. They did not disappoint. Neither did the chamber orchestra skillfully lead by conductor Viswa Subbaraman. Although the orchestra was small in number their sound and virtuosic playing was an incredible partner to the simply stunning singing of all five cast members.

Viswa Subbaraman’s hypnotic and enthralling conducting was clearly visible with the orchestra positioned at the back of the stage rather than out of sight in a pit or buried in the wings. Subbaraman’s arms and precise finger movements were dramatic and interesting to observe behind the stage drama. He certainly had his hands full with Peterson’s intricate score that stretches the boundaries of the voice and instruments and takes many risks. The lighting of the conductor allowed a ghostly appearance of him to come through, but yet this complimented and did not overpower the stage action.

The minimalistic set design by Richard Kagey and James Koehnle served the often chaotic stage action well by being simple while the music and action were complex—a satisfying combination. The smaller size of the McDavid state-of- the-art Studio also lent well to the overall effect of this intimate story.

The librettist Jason Zencka and Mathew Peterson got into the audience’s minds by taking us directly into the conflicted thoughts and troubled minds of the judge and the criminals who came before him in his court. “Voir Dire” is actually a legal term that refers to the preliminary questioning of prospective jurors by attorneys and a judge to determine if biases may affect their decisions. I’ll admit that I certainly departed the opera questioning my previous established thoughts on justice and morality.

The truth of a court system and how to achieve justice is dug into over and over again in this opera. To add to this the boundaries of the human voice and instruments are repeatedly challenged and extended.

Nathan Mattingly, the bass-baritone who played the judge was somber and thoughtful in his superb acting. The strength of his voice increased with each scene. However, I did feel that his low tones were slightly overpowered by the orchestra in the opening. Still, the balance between the voices and the orchestra evened out as the opera progressed. Each scene contained a combination of the same five singers who morphed into various characters.

One of the fascinating things about a performance that involves multiple characters played by the same basic set of voices is that the audience witnesses each singer quickly transforming into a different persona almost like when you watch a photo digitally morph into another face—it’s creepy and fascinating at the same time. These instantaneous transformations required much of the cast of the five—they achieved each morph with precision and ease. Huge kudos to the costume designer, Meredith Hinton who created costumes that are easily peeled, such as the orange suits of inmates that slid off and allowed each character to become a prosecutor, stenographer and policeman in one, perhaps two blinks.

All these on-stage costume changes were accomplished as they sang. And well, my goodness, they were wonderful voices. I really am hard-pressed to find a voice in this troupe that did not satisfy my demand for musicality, connection to character, and overall quality of sound. No park and park happened here! They all simply bathed my ears with sincerity and virtuosity. In particular, mezzo Anna Laurenzo, tore at my heart with simple, high, yet mournful sustained straight tones in her aria describing her miscarriage due to her husband’s punch to her abdomen. Soprano Christina Pecce managed to sing beautifully while maintaining incredible comic effect in her role as a flustered prosecutor. Then she turned around to sing chilling yet wantonly tender lines as the ghost mother who never quite gave up her addiction to her son’s sicknesses (Munchausen syndrome by proxy).

Eerie sounds of the voice were echoed in squeaky and sometimes even scratchy sounds in the violin. The wind instruments also wandered and whined in unexpected ways that fascinated me by their ability to scratch at my ear drum while also mirroring the tortured emotions of the characters.

Trevor Martin sang the many baritone roles and probably went through the widest range of all the character changes by being the silly exotic bird in the custody battle scene and the guilt-ridden professor in the child pornography case. Tenor Andrew Surrena also wrapped himself around multiple roles such as a defense attorney, mediating judge and a criminal with adept and genuine acting along with a clean and intense tone.

All in all this world premier opera was shocking in a satisfying way. Modern opera is not always so to my ears. I’ve heard contemporary opera that was so choppy and disjointed that I longed to escape before the end of the first act. Jolting sounds without a focused purpose are like a grand piano with no strings. What’s the point? However, that was definitely not the feeling I had about the melodic lines that darted and joggled around in Voir Dire. Spasmodic lines were balanced with longer ones and all combined to achieve a specific purpose. To my thinking that purpose was to jolt us by the reality of the horror of what appears in the courts, i.e., the violence that humans are capable of and how it is strewn out for evaluation in a courtroom.

VOIR DIRE
Fort Worth Opera Festival
McDavid Studio (across from Bass Performance Hall)
301 E. 5 th Street
Fort Worth, TX 76102

Remaining performances are April 29 th , 30 th and May 6 th .

The production runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission.

Tickets are $87.00. Military receive a 50% discount. Student rush tickets are available 15 minutes prior to performance. Currently sold out – arrive one hour before show time to be placed on a wait list.

Purchase tickets online at www.fwopera.org or call: 817.731.0726 (Toll Free 1.877.396.7372).
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