Review by Sherri Strichman
It was a very satisfying evening Friday (Feb. 22) as Tri-Cities Opera opened its production of Three Decembers. The libretto by Gene Scheer is based on an unpublished drama by Terrence McNally and, like Baby Bear’s porridge, the ratio of dark to light moments is just right. He and composer Jake Heggie have collaborated several times in the past. The result is an opera with drama, angst, sibling fondness, gentle parody, light humor, conflict and resolution. It’s got it all and still manages to end on a note of hope. For those who are not fans of modern music, this will not be a problem. The music is generally accessible, mostly lyrical, sometimes discordant when necessary, buts always appropriate to the action.
The three characters are Maddie Taylor, an actress, and her two children. Beatrice is a mother and housewife in Connecticut, and her brother, Charlie, lives in San Francisco with his partner, Burt, who is dying of AIDS. Their father has an almost tangible presence onstage, despite having died in a car accident when Beatrice was 7 and Charlie was 5. The three Decembers refer to three of Maddie’s annual Christmas letters to her children in 1986, 1996 and 2006.
Tesia Kwarteng brought her warm, smooth voice and regal manner to the role of Maddie. A strong woman but sometimes casual mother, Maddie has always done whatever she has needed to do for her career and family. To paraphrase Beatrice, “She loved the theater more than us.” For her first entrance, she is rolled in on a divan, Cleopatra style.
Lianne Aharony, as Beatrice, sang lyrically and beautifully. She managed all the vocal changes: vulnerable, supportive, sarcastic, fond, hopeful. And the onstage costume changes! Oy!
Aaron Stepanek as Charlie displayed a fine baritone that could ring with angst or soften to reminisce about his father.
All three singers are excellent actors and seem to have a camaraderie that transcended the stage.
Stage director James Kenon Mitchell moved his characters through a minimalist setting (scenic design by AmarA*jk; lighting design by Abigail Hoke-Brady). The one problem with the set was a column of the deck/mirror frame that partially obscured whichever character was upstage center. If you sit in the red seats, sit house right.
Other members of the production staff included costume designer Katherine “Sue” Johnson and hair and makeup designer Shushu Vaughn.
The production runs 90 minutes without a break, so the “orchestra” of pianists John Cockerill and U Lee with conductor Braden Toan needed sharp concentration and focus. They were well up to the demands of the opera.
It was sad that the performance drew a small audience; this opera deserves better.
Worth the price? Yes.
IF YOU GO: Three Decembers will be presented again at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday (March 1 and 3) at the Tri-Cities Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton. Tickets: $ 40; premium, $55. Call 772-0400 or visit www.tricitiesopera.com.