by Steven Pisano
You have to admire the courage of a composer of one-act operas. They probably have a better chance of winning Powerball or pitching for the Yankees than they have of staging a commercial run. Thank goodness, then, for the many small opera companies that have stepped in to produce these small-sized works.
Fresh Squeezed Opera is a small, but ambitious Nyc-based company founded in 2013 by Jillian Flexner, Maggie Rascoe, and Lee Braun. This past week at the IATI Theater, they put on two one-acts: "Scopes" by Spencer Snyder and George Gaffney, and "Prix-Fixe" by Kevin Wilt and Caitlin Vincent.
"Scopes," directed by Victoria Benson and conducted by Dean Buck, is about the famous 1925 trial we all read about in history class, with criminal attorney Clarence Darrow (Sean Patrick Jernigan) facing down orator and politician William Jennings Bryan (Joshua Miller) about whether it was legal to teach children about evolution in a state where the Bible was presented as literal truth. The reporting on the trial by journalist H.L Mencken (Melanie Leinbach) was a national sensation. The whole spectacle had the sensationalistic flavor of tabloid TV, despite the fact that TV hadn't yet been invented.
The debate of creationism versus evolution still rages in parts of our country, and arguments can still get pretty heated. But it's not exacly the stuff of drama. So, while the singing throughout "Scopes" was quite strong, and the performers give magnetic performances, the piece as a whole was too one-dimensional to really transport the audience to a place beyond the briefs. (Similar issues plagued Kevin Spacey's recent revival of the one-man show "Clarence Darrow" at Arthur Ashe Stadium.)
Not so Kevin Wilt's "Prix-Fixe," composed last year but receiving its New York premiere here. Directed by Maggie Rascoe and conducted by David Leibowitz, this one-act was a fun, frothy satire about an aspiring opera singer who wants so very much to be an opera diva. Growing up, her rich daddy hired teacher after teacher, throwing mountains of money at them, telling them, "Whatever it takes," until finally even her father told his precious little sweet-ums that maybe, just maybe, being an opera singer was not in her stars---at which point she never spoke to him again.Barbara Porto glistened like a jewel in the role of Rebecca Manchester, who, after 309 audition results of thank-you-but-no-thank-you, finally gets her big break---an offer to sing in nothing less than George Bizet's Carmen! Never mind that it is for the Community Opera Players of Westford, New York, or that she plays Cigarette Girl #4. It was a real part! That is, until Cigarette Girl #3, with her "oversized ma-ra-cas" made it clear to the production that they didn't need four cigarette girls, so the only role left for Manchester to play was "los testiculos del toro" (or, "the bottom half of the bull.")
Porto's performance was deliciously funny, and her mastery of Caitlin Vincent's witty lyrics had the audience laughing throughout. Lee Braun, an oboist and co-founder of Fresh Squeezed Opera, made his acting debut as the devoted butler who serves his lady an endless stream of pretentious-sounding trays of food. The only thing missing here was a bigger audience.
Nest season, Fresh Squeezed Opera will be presenting works by Paola Prestini and Kate Soper, as well as the New York premiere of the satirical Knot an Opera by Constantin Basica. More info on dates and locations here.