This production had its minor flaws, but was devastating in many ways.
|Sister Helen Prejean, on a proscenium. Clouds and crucifix.|
Effective use of lighting effects for clouds.
In this case, the majority of the piece was set inside a prison. As such, the palette was primarily grays, with costume and lighting offering little relief. Given the subject matter, some relief is necessary. Here, it comes as the aforementioned kinetic staging.
Many cautions were given to attendees about subject matter. The story was filmed many years ago, and there's a well-read book, so I'm not too worried about spoilers here. The opening rape scene was staged subtly, given its content. Still, I winced. The coarse language didn't trouble me. It rarely does if appropriate to the story. The character of the accused Joseph DeRocher (sung with depth and precision by Seth Carico), offered spiritual counsel by Sister Helen Prejean (ably played and sung by Catherine Martin), plays the scene with brutality and lack of reserve. But somehow, despite my cringing at the scene, it has a reduced impact overall.
|An attempt to capture the moving "light bars" of the cell block on paper.|
A note about drawing this opera: I usually do a fairly direct setup, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. I clip a book light to my sketchbook and fill my lap with the most necessary tools, the rest of my drawing kit at the ready.
This night, it all went south.
My book light slipped from my grasp and broke. This left me drawing in relative darkness. It's been a while since I practiced the Zen of blind drawing, and the results were simply horrid. To top it off, probably due to frustration over the turn of events, I kept dropping my favorite inking tool. In selfish terms just of drawing, the night was an unmitigated disaster.
The only decent drawing done during the preview.
There's a reason I use markers for this sort of work. They encourage speed. I did cheat a bit and spend a bit more time on the straightedge work. Also, I used small Bristol boards rather than Canson sketchbook paper, and worked in French grays rather than the cool grays I used on site. I stuck to my commitment to allocate no more time for the reworks than I had at the actual preview.
|DeRocher's moment of surrender|
Even without that option, there were ample moments of emotional clarity. The one drawn here was a moment of silence following a profound and bitter self-realization.
The sparse moment in both score and libretto served well. Terrence McNally (libretto) and Jake Heggie (music) made wise decisions around these issues. While there were several chaotic scenes of cross-talk, rage and grief, many of the principals had moments of clarity, reflected by the reduction and absence of sound.
Sometimes people listen more closely if one talks more softly.
A word on performance dynamics: when I began attending preview nights, there was a stated rule against applause and audience reaction, as it is indeed a rehearsal.
|The father, in a moment of rage.|
Howard Boucher, father of the rape victim, was played with remarkable strength and vulnerability by Rob Asklof. His narrative echoes that of DeRocher in surprising ways: unbridled rage and fear, borne in both cases of a fear of redemption and forgiveness.
In marked contrast, Father Grenville (sung by Dennis Petersen) shows an intransigence which does not appear to resolve. His persona seems rigidly static through to the end.
The internal logic of this is sound. Beyond a core of humanity, no two people are going to respond in the same way to such dire circumstances. Playing these reactions against one another is the core of story.
I came to the work with personal baggage, as one who was raised Catholic but no longer practices. A minor impediment to seeing the work objectively, but one that deserves to be noted. I suspect that this work pulls on the strings of everyone's faith and upbringing. The issue of capital punishment touches on the one of the core questions of any society. Who has the right to take a life?
Despite my scattered misgivings, I found the production both professional and profound. There are performances scheduled for today, January 30 and the weekend of February 1 and 3. Tickets can be obtained here.
MN Opera is staging a strong season. Next up in mid-March, it's Rigoletto.
I look forward to drawing it.
Next: more of my graphic memoir, Sharp Invitations.