Opera 5 made a wise move when they asked Cecilia Livingston to write an opera for them. Not only because she is a talented composer, but because the product of their collaboration – a short opera based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short story of the same name: The Masque of the Red Death (2013) was the definite highlight of Sunday’s show. That’s not to say Opera 5’s other productions weren’t thoroughly entertaining in their own right. The Cask of Amontillado (2001) by Daniel Pinkham, an American composer, was an interesting ride through a story of a man bent on the downfall of his best friend as revenge for wronging him, and La Chute de la Maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher) (1917) is an unfinished opera by Claude Debussy (and really, who doesn’t love some Debussy), were both enjoyable journeys through the Poe stories, also of the same name. However, the star really shone for Livingston and her opera.
Sleek, sexy, and spooky, this opera was exactly what this time of year called for. The story, in which a prince (played by the very impressive David Tinervia) battles the spread of the plague ‘the Red Death’ by gathering a thousand people from knights and royalty in his palace and sealing them off from the outside world, and, at the same time, throwing a party. The party is interrupted by a new guest who reveals himself to be the Red Death, and kills everyone at the party.
Cecilia Livingston has quite a talent when it comes to writing vocal music (her compositions include multiple commissions for choirs, and many songs), and her abilities certainly showed here. While the other two pieces contained more serious music, The Masque… began with a fantastic jazz-like number that definitely seized the attention of every person in the theatre. The rest of the piece alternated between this more upbeat style, and a more bleak representation of the seriousness of the situation. My highlight of the piece, and the moment I knew that I had really enjoyed this piece more than the other two, was in the closing minutes, when the Red Death has killed everyone in the hall, and the percussion enters to great effect, adding to the mood of the scene. It’s a very haunting scene, and one that took a great deal of skill to pull off effectively, but Livingston did just that.
Credit also has to go to Opera 5’s cast and crew, who’s work on the costumes and the staging made the three works really come to life. I’ve never been a big zombie person, and I usually think dressing in zombie-esque attire can be a bit kitsch, however this was a situation where the zombie style of makeup really enhanced the scenes. The set too, with its many (and I mean many) alcohol bottles placed around to make it seem as if the world’s greatest party had come and gone, worked as an all purpose set. In The Casque, it was an appropriate abandoned cellar. In La Chute… it worked as a rundown house, and in The Masque… it worked fantastically has a place where a party was currently going on.
This was Opera 5’s first full main stage production since their inception almost two years ago, and I can’t wait for their next show.
There are two more showings of this performance: Wednesday, October 30th, and Thursday, October 31st. If you aren’t too busy, I highly suggest you go to see one of these performances.
– Paolo Griffin