Peabody Chamber Opera goes through 'Transformations'
This is a curious -- and curiously affecting --work. The text comes from Anne Sexton's poetic re-imagining of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. The poet, who took her own life a year after the opera's 1973 premiere, found in those tales new, provocative angles about sexuality, familial relations, love and death.
Susa, an underrated American composer (his "Dangerous Liaisons" from the 1990s deserves more attention, just for starters), produced a masterful opera out of the material, propelled by myriad styles, from Weill-esque cabaret to jazz. Somehow, everything fuses coherently -- well, as coherently as you would want for a work that is all about unexpected twists and strange detours.
Jennifer Blades directed the action on a minimal set with
an effective flow, generating from the cast a sturdy ensemble effort.
Maggie Finnegan was especially impressive in the central role of the opera, depicting the poet herself (cigarette and martini at the ready) and some characters from the stories; her singing had an admirable tonal purity and textual clarity. Stephanie Miller (the Princess) and Peter Tomaszewski (Neighboring King) also stood out for their warm, firmly supported voices. And all of the others -- Jennifer Hamilton, David Diehl, Curtis Bannister, Andrew Spardy, James Parks -- contributed something distinctive to the overall expressive musical and theatrical spark of the performance.
JoAnn Kulesza conducted sensitively and drew alert, polished playing from a chamber ensemble that seemed to relish the score's brilliant dance through Susa's idiomatic diversity.
PHOTO (by Edward S. Davis) OF JENNIFER HAMILTON AND PETER TOMASZEWSKI COURTESY OF PEABODY INSTITUTE