Fort Worth Opera
Director – Robert Woodruff
Conductor – Alan Pierson
Scenic/Video Designer – Jim Findlay
Lighting Designer – Christopher Kuhl
Production Consultant/Costume Designer – Victoria “Vita” Tzykun
Sound Engineer – Garth MacAleavey
Prince’s Wig Designer – Anne Ford-Coates
Stage Manager – Lindsey Turteltaub
Howard (Father) – James Bobick
Mother – Marnie Breckenridge
Captain – Cherry Duke
Prince – John Kelly
Elliott – Michael Marcotte
Pat – Peter Tantsits
Lisa – Lauren Worsham
Annina – Maren Weinberger
Reviewed Performance 4/26/2015
Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Sometimes one attends a performance that so rocks your soul you feel you will never be the same. Dog Days affected me this way. From the opening bellow of the father to the closing scene of deafening sorrow created by the nine-piece orchestra, there was not a moment of emotional rest. Even in quiet moments my heart still vibrated and ached for humankind’s fate so poignantly depicted by composer David Little and librettist Royce Vavrek in their apocalyptic two-act opera. They based their work upon the short story by Judy Budnitz.
Although the singers and instruments were highly amplified at the Sunday matinee, I felt the unplanned preview I had witnessed two days prior was a more human performance in some ways.
This work is a hybrid, resulting from the cross pollination of heavy metal rock and musical theater. That’s quite an operatic flower!
On Friday evening the tornado siren warnings caused opening night attendees to be herded into the basement in the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. Ironically, we were there to view an opera about one family struggling to survive during World War III, but instead stood in a dark, cement block hallway dimly lit by emergency lamps. We stared at our non-working cell phones and barely spoke to each other while Mother Nature waged her little war above. One woman did venture to speak out loud. “I think this area was originally a bomb shelter.” Somehow, I didn’t feel comforted.
Upon returning to our seats, the technicians attempted to bring back to life the electric panels needed to perform the contemporary opera. When it was determined this wouldn’t happen, an offering was made to present an acoustic preview of selected scenes. The audience applauded in agreement.
I must say that I found that the natural voices of Lauren Worsham, who played thirteen-year-old Lisa, and James Bobick as her father Howard, really showed that they didn’t require amplification to be powerful. On that stormy Friday night they used their natural voices and the small orchestra played without plugging into amplifiers.
When I returned on Sunday to view the full performance, Worsham again sang her opening aria to Prince, the dog-man, with childlike purity. She manipulated her voice around the jocular melodic lines like a seasoned pro and was steeped into her character. She brought meaning to her arias’ haunting minor tonalities with natural ease and fluidity. Worsham also mastered singing the detached phrases which seems to be the composer’s favorite vocal effect. He used it often throughout the other singers’ arias as well.
Marnie Breckenridge sang the role of the mother. Her scene as she pounded on her legs while standing frozen next to her bed unable to make her legs and muscles obey was brilliantly sung and acted. Breckenridge has a lovely round tone that handled the chromatic sadness of her melodies well.
With all the staccatti and abrasive harmonies, and crashing orchestration there was never a moment of rest in the opera. But so it must be when witnessing a family starving to death while an undefined war rages. Watching their suffering makes one ponder and reflect. And that is good.
As Lisa sang to her reflected appearance in a mirror, Worsham’s acting skills were breathtaking. She sang, “Hello there, beautiful”, while admiring her boney body, convinced that she’d finally achieved the model look. The social statement made, in times when professional models are dying from eating disorders, was aptly accomplished.
The silent role of Prince the dog was a masterpiece of feral madness acted to untamed perfection by actor John Kelly. His doglike posture and antics in the faux dog/owner relationship he establishes with the young Lisa are upsetting and fascinating at the same time. His canine costume with chunks of fur and tape was a work of art created by Vita Tzykun. Anne Ford-Coates designed his wooly wig to that achieved the dog, yet human appearance needed.
Cherry Duke sang the menacing role of Captain, who attempts to recruit the boys. Duke portrayed her character with a steely rigidity perfect for the obnoxious army captain persona.
Brothers Pat and Elliott, sung by Peter Tantsits and Michael Marcotte, were performed with virility and angst. Their first duet had stinging harmonies that landed on the ear like a hornet’s nest. They both embraced their macho musical personas using belting hard rock voices. Profanities were flung about by the two pot-smoking guys like a bald-tired van in a rainstorm. Still, the f-bomb flood didn’t bother me as it was purposeful.
Little and Vavrek created a distressing view of what happens in a world run amuck with war. Their characters screamed, shouted and cursed, as that was their lives. Observing the psychological regression the family passed through served a high purpose, and although I was really ready to retreat to my cozy home when the opera ended, I was extremely glad to have attended. In fact, I was glad to have my thoughts ree- poked and prodded concerning the world and how people treat each other.
It was interesting to see the hunter/gather stereotype played out. The father went out hunting daily. The mother, performed by Marnie Breckenridge, sang while she gathered dandelions to feed her family, and went through the motions of setting the table in zombie-like repetitiveness even when they only ate grass. The eerie, hymn-like grace the family sung at the beginning of each ritualistic meal ending with “Amen” was akin to the sound of a Hebrew shofar. James Bobick, as the father, sings this resonating phrase well. However, I think the power of his amplified voice was too much at times. This was evident during one of the few comic relief moments. The mother asked, “Do you feel better now?” after the father has had one of his long, ranting volcanic eruptions.
Scenic and Video Designer Jim Findlay did a fine job creating the war ravished set by utilizing projections of smoking landscapes coupled with helter-skelter trash littered around the stage.
The use of a large video screen to zoom in on Lisa’s anguished face and magnifying her tears was gut-wrenching. I was also glad to have supertitles on the screen as Lisa wrote to her long-lost friend, Marjorie, and wouldn’t have minded having them throughout the whole opera even though it was sung in English. With the distortion of vowels, the supertitles were a crutch I’d be happy to embrace.
I think that it must be stated that “louder is not always better.” Under the control of Sound Engineer Garth MacAleavey, the closing scene was powerful, but I was drawn to literally plug my ears with my fingers to protect them from the volume. It felt as if I was in the front row at a rock concert with the speakers within arm’s reach, and that’s going a step too far with the volume knob. I tried to take my fingers out of my ears several times, but just couldn’t endure it. Granted, this was only for about the last five minutes of the opera, but well, this work is so effective without quite that much volume, and I have to say, “You had me at hello…get my rifle.”
Fort Worth Opera Festival
Scott Theater at Fort Worth Community Arts Center
1300 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Final performances are Tuesday, April 28th, Wednesday, April 29th, Friday, May 1st at 7:30 pm, and Saturday, May 2nd at 2:00 pm
Tickets range from $17.00 to $75.00. Military receive a 50% discount. Student rush tickets are available 15 minutes prior to performance with ID.
Purchase tickets online at www.fwopera.org or call 817-731-0726
(Toll Free 1.877.396.7372).