A sampling of new operas at Peabody focusing on women
But plaudits to this remarkable program of Peabody Opera, led by Roger Brunyate, that brings composers and students together every couple of years to generate fresh material. This year's project started some time ago with improvisations by singers discussing various themes and issues from a woman's point of view -- harassment in the workplace, spousal infidelity, mother/daughter relationships, etc. Composers then started to work with those ideas and developed these short operas, written expressly for voice students at the conservatory.
The four works I saw certainly proved interesting, in some cases more for the words and action than the music. Most impressive to me was "Generations," a snapshot of four intersecting lives in a single family. Emily Koh's subtly spicy score produced some strong lyricism (there's a vivid quartet along the way). Katherine Krueger wrote the effective libretto and also performed as the Grandmother in the vibrant cast, joined by Alexandra Iranfar (Daughter), Danielle Edwards (Mother) and Annie Laing (Great-Grandmother). Brunyate provided the telling stage direction.
The audience sounded most taken with "Missed Connections," which has music and text by Jon Carter. It's something of a risque sitcom (especially the portions that use spoken dialogue), all revolving around two women who connect via a personal ad on craigslist. Carter's score takes an occasional turn toward
Joshua Bornfield's "On Your Own Time" has some sitcom elements in it as well, these involving a guy with a "Mad Men"-vintage idea of how to treat women at work.
The piano score settled into colorless dabs of harmony as the vocal lines went into recitative overdrive. The humor in the story got a bit heavy-handed, but the animated cast -- Christine Killian, Maisi Pedersen and William McCullough (William Schaller directed) -- made the most of it.
In "Cheated," composer/librettist Jeff Zeiders gives a deep nod to Philip Glass (even down to the right-hand, cross-over bass notes periodically supporting minimalist patterns in the left). The plot consists of a brief, emotional conversation between two friends, Clara (Rachel Gitner) and Zoe (Lisa Perry), and how they react to news that Zoe's husband has strayed.
Whatever my reservations, I admired all of these creative efforts in one way or another, along with the commitment of all the performers involved in a very worthy project. I hope to catch up someday with the operas I didn't hear.
PHOTOS OF JULIANA MARIN (top) AND RACHEL GITNER COURTESY OF PEABODY INSTITUTE