Solana desperately wants to believe that she’s the Jezebel she claims to be. The conflicted Dona Juan opens the show by proudly declaiming that she’s lured countless housewives from their husbands and that she’ll happily seduce a dozen hundred more. But when her voice bursts through the top of her tessitura it’s apparent that she’s trying to convince herself of her story just as much as us. Somehow she’s managed to fall into the trap of falling in love like most every negging protagonist without a fixed address. Her love interest is a rich housewife by the name of Lilah who returns her affections but can’t leave the entrails of her old life behind her.
So begins Leslie Uyeda’s new opera When The Sun Comes Out. It’s set in the not entirely fictional country of Fundamentalia, where homosexuals have to keep their romantic antics behind closed doors or face execution. At first blush, the show really is just another opera about love and the jealous lovers who get stabby when people’s loins don’t stay clamped together and it follows that the big whodunnit of the piece is how Solana, Lilah, and her husband Javan play out Solana & Lilah’s affair. The composer and librettist make a point of keeping a wide berth between themselves and an ending where everybody goes to a party and drinks their knives and I think this is the big success of the show. Rather than giving us the conclusive finality of a mass grave or the hopeful optimism of lovers riding off together to a new life, the creative team instead leaves a knife point hanging over the duo as the piece rumbles to a close. Given that the Opera’s premise is all to true and often worse in many countries around the world I found the ending to be positively chilling.
Perhaps it’s not unexpected in an Opera about love that the only mis-step in the show was the occasional over-insistent lunge from the libretto. An Opera about love is quite possibly the most difficult thing to write and keep from veering into the over-affected. The problem might perhaps best be illustrated in a criticism leveled at the grand-daddy of Opera himself, Richard Wagner: It’s untrue, but not hyperbolic to say that when Wagner said, “I love you” in his operas he declaimed it with a thunderous chorus of angels riding winged horses that whipped up thunder in their wake. But when life experience seems to show that the words carry the greatest effect in a whisper the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you’re left wondering what the lady in horned helmet was singing about for an hour and a half and why couldn’t Siegfried just get on with it and die. A dusting of chuckles in the audience during a dark moment can sometimes be indicative of sawing into emotionally sensitive territory but I don’t think it was the case here. During an amorous moment, the line “Melt on me like chocolate in the sun” drew glances with cocked eyebrows from almost everybody in my section.
Leslie’s score called for some huge singing and playing but I never felt like the music was too dense. The composer’s style definitely reminds me of the music of the generation that came before me but I never get the feeling like she’s trying to prove something with her dots. What’s more, she isn’t at all hesitant to bare a melodic gift that (gasp) actually leaves us with a tune in our ears. It’s all in the service of the story. Teiya Kasahara seemed to have been given the most ambitious helping of ammunition in her role as Solana but any of the three roles would make any singer sweat. There was an especially beautiful section (Aria? Song? What do we even call these things anymore?) for Lilah’s role and piano at about the halfway point (Sung beautifully here by Julia Morgan) beginning with the text, “Wind, rock, and star…” that should be in the folder of any singer who wants something fantastic to sound fantastic with.
Great concert. Where were you?