BURIED ALIVE / EMBEDDED
2016 Fort Worth Opera Festival
Fort Worth Opera
Composed by Jeff Myers
Libretto by Quincy Long
Based loosely on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Premature Burial”
Composed by Patrick Soluri
Libretto by Deborah Brevoort
Based loosely on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado”
Conductor – Tyson Deaton
Director – Lawrence Edelson BURIED ALIVE
Director – Sam Helfrich EMBEDDED
Scenic and Costume Designer – Zane Pihlstrom
Lighting Designer – Joshua Epstein
Wig and Makeup Designer – Steven Bryant
Video Designer – S. Katy Tucker
Stage Manager – Whitney McAnally
Assistant Director – Cara Consilvio
Repetiteur – Stephen Carey
Gravedigger – Nathan Stark
Victor – Christopher Burchett
Undertaker/Doctor – Anna Laurenzo
Elena – Maren Weinberger
Undertaker Assistant 2/ER Nurse 2 – Caroline Worra
Undertaker Assistant 1/ER Nurse 1/Priest – Brian Wallin
Producer – Christopher Burchett
Rory – Brian Wallin
GPS Device/Camera Woman – Anna Laurenzo
Victoria Reilly – Maren Weinberger
Sylvia Malow – Caroline Worra
Montresor – Nathan Stark
Reviewed Performance: 4/26/2016
Reviewed by Laurie Lynn Lindemeier, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Halloween arrived early this year with the Fort Worth Opera Festival’s double bill of two psychological one-act thrillers. These two chilling operas are part of the FWO’s alternative venue series, Opera Unbound. Each runs under 45 minutes, but both pack a lingering and haunting punch as one might expect works based on Edgar Allan Poe stories to do. Thus, do not expect to go away with a face sore from smiling too much! Rather, you may need to bring along a trusted friend who won’t mind you clinging to his or her arm a bit.
I didn’t harass my guest to the opera thusly; however, she, as a staunch symphony fan and talented performer of classical instrumental music, informed me that she may become a regular attendee of opera, and swing over to enjoying the vocal world. She and I both thoroughly delighted in taking in these dark dramas that are virtual vocal bubble baths of luxurious sound. In the case of Buried Alive, the tub may be filled with formaldehyde for embalming, but no matter.
William Gibbons, Professor of Music at TCU, presented the preshow lecture to a group who’d braved the stormy night and inhabited a few back rows of the 500-seat W.E. Scott Theatre. Gibbons thoroughly engaged the opera devotees by leading an enlightening discussion about how opera can convey emotion with music that fills in the gaps. He assured us that even though both works presented that evening were on the creepy side, the final scene had a positive ending.
Well, all things in perspective, I wouldn’t call the ending of Embedded “happy” but certainly disturbing, ironic and bizarrely inspirational.
However, I’ll circle ‘round now to the opening production, Buried Alive. Librettist Quincy Long and composer Jeffrey Myers have woven a frightening story of a painter whose nightmares of death manifest themselves in his life. In the midst of video screen projections and supernatural lighting, we are never quite sure if he’s dreaming or awake. These state-of-the-art effects were designed to dreadfully spooky success by video designer S. Katy Tucker and lighting designer Joshua Epstein.
Nathan Stark opened Buried Alive with “Lo! ‘tis a somber night,” which he sang with richly ominous bass tones as he entreated us to “sit in a theatre, to a play of hopes and fears, while the orchestra breathes fitfully.” Indeed, the contrabassoon created subsonic tones throughout that vibrated and rattled the air like only death could. Instrumentation was unpredictable and effective throughout. I can only imagine the difficulty conductor Tyson Deaton encountered as he led the skilled chamber orchestra. Having witnessed Deaton’s triumphant conducting talent in FWO’s 2013 Glory Denied, I can’t say that I was surprised at his ability to meet the challenge of a difficult score. Director Lawrence Edelson artfully brought together all the creative elements of the regional premier, making Buried Alive glow with supernatural splendor on a blustery Texas eve.
Edelson benefited by having a cast that was equally gifted in interpreting these new works. Each singer had the opportunity to tackle a completely different role between the two works. For example, a minor character in one work would play a major character in the next. The lead in Buried Alive was Victor, a painter sung with convincing terror by baritone Christopher Burchett. His sympathetic wife Elena was sung with a striking soprano by Maren Weinberger who pleaded with her ever-more-frantic husband, “Paint your way out.”
I particularly liked the scene wherein Weinberger sang a duet with the seductive doctor/undertaker, mezzo Anna Laurenzo, a fine actor and singer. Anyone who can strut in stilettos while simultaneously singing cuttingly high notes has my admiration. The two women closed one scene with interchanges of “time, time again,” as they slowly backed away from the comatose victim lying on a gleaming silver stretcher, all bathed in chartreus light.
The most cut-to-the-chase, knock-your-black- lace-stockings-off performance was delivered in the second opera, Embedded. Caroline Worra as Sylvia Malow gave a performance that is not to be missed. She portrayed an anchorwoman battling the desire to remain at the top of her game while facing the threat of her youthful on-the-go-reporter rival, sassy Victoria Reilly sung by Maren Weinberger. Ultimately Worra does triumph and keep her stardom in an unexpected way in the end. Her vocal flexibility and intensity carried the role with unearthly ease.
Director Sam Helfrich, debuting with this production, did a fine job guiding this group of singers in this fast-paced story that hits way too close to current times with a Montresor, terrorist, menacingly sung by Nathan Stark threatening to bomb a major city’s critical transportation route.
Tenor Brian Wallin performed the role of Rory, the makeup man, who added a layer of light-heartedness as he attended the journalist’s every need. His costume was designed by Zane Philstrom and included a snazzy makeup belt with all the necessary accessories.
Last year when attending the FWO’s Dog Days opera, another dark story, the audience was ushered into the basement while tornado sirens blasted. This year, despite storm warnings, we made it through alive and survived the back-to-back Poe stories. As I hurriedly walked back to the parking garage to avoid the impending deluge of yet another Texas torrent, it was Worra’s final scene clutching her cell phone that stuck in my mind like the bleak moment of recall when one wakes from a nightmare. I made it out alive, but did she?
BURIED ALIVE EMBEDDED
Fort Worth Opera Festival
W.E. Scott Theatre (Inside the Fort Worth Community Arts Center)
1300 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107
Remaining performances are April 30th at 2:00, May 3rd at 7:30 and May 7th at 2:00 pm.
Season subscriptions range from $26 to $379 while single tickets range from $17 to $75. Military receives a discount. Student rush tickets are available, with ID, 15 minutes prior to performance.
Purchase tickets online at www.fwopera.org or call 817-731-0726
(Toll Free 1.877.396.7372).