New Opera At Boston Conservatory

By Arthur Smith

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The enterprising Guerilla Opera, a chamber company associated with Boston Conservatory and dedicated to new works in an intimate setting, just finished the world premiere run of Wet, Loose, Perforated, an oddly titled, but engrossing 80 minute morality parable by Nicholas Vines, a Harvard-trained composer, now based in Sydney.

Given in Boston Conservatory’s Zack Box Theater, in the basement of a building on the Fenway (a trip down the stairs, plus a black turtleneck or two, is the one requirement all authentic new music performances seem to ask of their audiences), the work is written for four characters: a narrator, Loose, Wet, and Perforated For Vines, these aren’t just names, but also adjectives describing each character, as well as larger ways of thinking about the world. The opera is structured as a series of ordeals and interludes: characters, whose identities shift as the work goes on, go through these ordeals and, akin to figures from medieval morality plays Vines used as inspiration, learn things about themselves and the nature of the world. This may seem like heavy freight, but in fact, Vines brings a light touch: certainly the opera is thought-provoking and philosophical, but it’s also funny and even sexy. It reveals a young composer with a sure hand for handling text The only possible exception is in the first few moments of the work, where key opening lines for the narrator were set so high that, despite being beautifully sung by Jan Zimmerman, they were just too high to be intelligible.

New music needs believers on stage to make believers of the audience, and Vines couldn’t have asked for better advocates. All four singers (Jonathan Nussman, Rebekah Alexander, and Aliana de la Guardia, also the company director) sang with fervor, putting across the alternately broad and subtle shifts in register, including the ingenious repetition and variation in both musical and dramatic terms). De La Guardia’s romp as a Delilah-like seductress in “I’ll Love You Like…” was a standout, as was Alexander’s singing and acting on “Must I climb the Greasy Pole?” perhaps not something to elaborate on much further in a general audience Web site. I’ll leave it at noting that the intended effects—both humorous and unsettling—come off perfectly.

Four instrumentalists complete the musical team: all very fine with a standout in percussionist Mike Williams. His playing was evocative and full of character, an effect aided by designer Julia Noulin-Mérat’s set, which opened up in the back to reveal the instrumentalists. Director Jeremy Bloom caught the mood and brought the right sense of both dire medieval times and twenty-first century wit.

So a nod is order for the whole team. I left with whetted appetite for what the group is up to next: Bovinus Rex, by Rodolf Rojahn, coming in spring. Who says there’s nothing new under the sun in Boston opera!

Photo courtesy of Guerilla Opera



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About the Author
Arthur Smith Arthur Smith
Arthur Smith is the former editor of WGBHArts. Executive producer for digital education at WGBH, Arthur, an amateur pianist and singer, was previously a freelance classical music reviewer for the Washington Post for 9 years. He has also worked at an opera company, and ran the information service and publications programs for OPERA America, the national service organization for the art form.  Since 1991, he has been the program annotator for Vocal Arts DC, a classical song recital series based at Washington's Kennedy Center. 

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