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Euripides goes Gothic

Santa Fe
The Crosby Theater
07/17/2021 -  & July 30*, August 5, 11, 17, 2021
John Corigliano: The Lord of Cries
Kathryn Henry (Lucy Harker), Anthony Roth Costanzo (Dionysus), David Portillo (Jonathan Harker), Jarrett Ott (John Seward), Matt Boehler (Van Helsing), Kevin Burdette (Correspondent), Leah Brzyski (Agave), Rachel Blaustein (Autonoe), Megan Moore (Ino), Robert Stahley (Captain)
Santa Fe Opera Chorus, Susanne Sheston (Chorus Mistress), Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, Johannes Debus (Conductor)
James Darrah (Director), Adam Rigg (Scenic Design), Chrisi Karvonides-Dushenko (Costume Design), Pablo Santiago (Lighting Design), Adam Larsen (Projection Design), Mark Grey (Sound Design), Anderson Nunnelley (Assistant Stage Director)

A. Roth Costanzo (© Curtis Brown for SFO)

American composer John Corigliano is a well-known figure of classical music fans. His one hundred-plus scores received numerous accolades and awards (five Grammies, one Pulitzer Price, and one Oscar). His first opera, The Ghost of Versailles, premiered at the Met in 1991. The Lord of Cries, his second opera, was commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera (SFO) and received its world premiere on July 7, 2021, at the Crosby Theater.

This time, Corigliano teamed up with librettist/composer Mark Adamo. The story is based on two literary works separated by 23 centuries: Euripides’ tragedy The Bacchae (405 BCE), and Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula (published in 1897). Adamo’s libretto combines the two stories (and their characters), arguing of “astonishing overlaps. Dionysus asserts his religious domain over Thebes, while Dracula asserts his ownership over Carfax Abbey. They both assume disguises to advance their plans, Dionysus as a mortal, Dracula as the ‘Stranger’. Both are assisted by violent women, bacchantes in Euripides’ tragedy, and the ladies in white for Dracula. The particular object of Agave [Euripides] and Jon Seward [Stoker]’s fury lures them into insanity, as they carry about a bloody head, not perceiving that it is severed from someone close to them”. Both works explore the same timeless and subversive message: we must honor our animalistic nature lest it turn monstrous and destroy us. As adapted by Corigliano and Adamo, Dionysus returns to Earth, this time to assaulted Londoners of the Victorian era. The plot revolves around Dr. John Seward, Dr. Abraham van Helsing, and Lucy Harker, all attempting to stop Dracula from wreaking havoc over London. The opera ends with Seward erroneously beheading Lucy Harker instead of Dracula, while Dionysus shows everyone his reflection in the ruins of Carfax Abbey changed into glittering mirrors, and the chorus warns the spectators of the wrath of the god. The libretto adds the character of the Westminster Gazette's correspondent (a spoken role) that serves as a narrator, while the chorus, in the Greek sense of the word, comments on the terror and excitement, signing off with a moral statement: “Behold the danger / Of thwarting passion! Naming it sin! / You may assuage the beast without / But not the beast within.”

Corigliano’s musical language here is bold, seductive, and sometimes deliberately discomfiting, perhaps more so in the second act than the first one. The writing is eclectic, from melodic consonance to harsh dissonance, but it fits situations and characters. Above all, it frames the story in an intense and chilling atmosphere.

The part of Dionysus is written for a counter-tenor. Superstar Anthony Roth Costanzo, with his flamboyant stage presence, captures the mysterious and supernatural nature of the demigod, capable of charming and later destroying. This type of androgynous voice could not be better suited for the role. The rest of the cast is equally distinguished. From tenor David Portillo (Jonathan Harker), so brilliant in his moment of agony, to baritone Jarett Ott (John Seward), bass-baritone Matt Boehler, to apprentice singer Kathryn Henry (Lucy Harker) who stepped into the role just a week before opening night and made a strong impression with her wide and dramatic soprano, all deliver commendable performances. This is equally true for Leah Brzyski (Agave), Rachel Blaustein (Autonoe), Megan Moore (Ino), Robert Stahley (Captain), and Kevin Burdette (Correspondent).

Director James Darrah leads us through the complexities of this opera with clever characterizations of the worlds of humans and deities. Statuesque tableaus bathed in crude red light by Adam Larsen create a disturbing atmosphere, enhanced by dramatic projections, some of eerie women morphing into wolves. Esthetically, the stage is superb and so reminiscent of Pier Luigi Pizzi.

The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra and Chorus give the impression of being perfectly at ease with this unfamiliar and dense score. The sound is lush, sometimes polished, sometimes ambiguous and unnerving. Compliments to percussionists – five of them – and brass, who are greatly solicited in this piece. Maestro Johannes Debus conducts a dynamic and unflinching performance.

This is unquestionably an unsettling theatrical experience, and one of SFO’s 2021season most bewitching moments.

Stay tuned for opening night of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream today.

Santa Fe Opera

Christian Dalzon



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