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OPERAtion Brooklyn Presents Excerpts from Susan Botti's "Wonderglass"

by Michael Cirigliano II

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For their latest production, OPERAtion Brooklyn hooked on to the ever-popular Alice in Wonderland theme, mounting a two-night opera-burlesque “party” that featured excerpts from Alice-inspired vocal works by Susan Botti, Manly Romero, and David del Tredici. In many ways, Galapagos Arts Space was an ideal venue for such a venture, with its lily pad-style seating, dark wood, and candlelit balcony.

However, Monday night’s semi-staged production of scenes from Botti’s early opera, Wonderglass, failed to hit its mark. Despite an eerie introduction from a tall, gangly man dressed as the White Rabbit, the presentation of the first opera of the evening was quite rudimentary. (Sadly, I was only able to stay for the Botti work.) The producers of the evening quickly shattered the mystery of the White Rabbit’s presence by taking to the stage to announce drink specials and raffles that were to take place far later in the evening.

Thankfully, Botti’s music spoke for itself—a unique work that pulled inspiration from neo-classical Stravinsky, Kurt Weill, and Eastern gamelan sounds. Like most of Botti’s music, the voice is the focus, and there were certainly some operatic aerobatics on display. The Queen of Heart’s invitation to croquet tested the extreme range of the soprano, accompanied by fanfare and march motives from the jazz ensemble. In another of the Queen’s scenes, the tone changed on a dime, with the Queen morphing into a flamenco dancer-chanteuse, complete with hand claps and well-played solos from the sax and trombone players.

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The highlight of the work was the Cheshire Cat’s aria, “We’re All Mad Here.” The baritone slinked across the stage while various projections of Cheshire Cat-related artwork were displayed against the back wall. The music was lyrical and dark, calling to mind some of the more intense moments in Britten’s Peter Grimes.

Unfortunately, with the lack of costuming, program notes, or even a cast list, it was incredibly difficult ascertaining the intended direction of the production. One was left guessing as to which scene of the story was being portrayed next (the scenes were taken out of order from the text), and with the entire cast in plain clothes, there were only subtle hints available as to which singer embodied the Queen’s narcissistic gravitas or Alice’s naiveté. Sadly, an informal approach to the presentation of new music only served to muddy the waters of the music itself.