Stories of love and betrayal may be the usual opera diet, but sometimes you run across something completely different. Performed as part of the PROTOTYPE Festival, composer/librettist David T. Little’s Soldier Songs draws on rather unusual source material: Compiled from Little's interviews with veterans, the opera explores the defining experiences of being a soldier. While the festival focused on chamber-sized works, this presentation at Pace University’s Schimmel Center proved that small forces can create hefty explosions.
Yuval Sharon’s production sounds deceptively simple on paper: two actors on a relatively small stage, strewn with sand. But a metamorphosis soon takes place, with a tent rising from the floor, before gradually transforming into a menacing set piece. The audience is inundated with one searing image after another, whisked first into a smoky darkness, than pummeled with blinding light—it was as terrifyingly close to being on a battlefield as one could hope for.
Both singers, Christopher Burchett as the Soldier and Zac Ballard as the Boy, gave intensely committed performances. Burchett displayed a rich baritone that he transformed into a childish falsetto at times. The physical performances were just as memorable, with the Soldier wandering the battlefield, stripped down and bloody.
The adrenaline-pumping production often dwarfed the musical score, which hovered uneasily between Broadway-esque melodies and haunting soundscapes. Conceived as a song cycle, Little's score had an intimacy that was often lost amidst the onstage tumult.
Musical preparation was excellent, with Todd Reynolds conducting the ensemble Newspeak. The only oddity was the amplification of the singers, which created a sense of distance in a production that was otherwise so visceral.
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