Seven strangers find themselves waiting together at a train station en route to an exotic destination. They each hold a symbolic everyday object – a hand mirror, cake box, hatbox, old luggage, paint box, shoe sampler kit and cornet case – that represents their own stories. . As the scene unfolds, each character is forced to examine their own personal baggage, literally and metaphorically.
This is the premise of Dominick Argento’s Postcard from Morocco, a surreal chamber opera premiered in 1971. In one act without a linear plot, the opera explores the ephemeral nature of human existence.
“(This opera) represents an outward odyssey that doesn’t happen,” said conductor Nicholas Carthy. “But everyone has their internal odyssey that they have to deal with. Where do they come from? How did they get to this place?
The University of Colorado Boulder’s Eklund Opera Program presented the opening night of “Postcard from Morocco” on Thursday, April 21 at the Imig Music Building Musical Theater. Their colorful rendition drew on the absurdity of Argento’s opera – with color-coded psychedelic costumes, cartoonish projections and token dancing puppets.
With a set of seven characters, the opera offered all performers opportunities to shine. Each had their own stage with a tune, showcasing their dramatic and musical talents.
“It’s a real ensemble play, which means there are no stars,” said director Leigh Holman.
“The whole opera is a wonderfully early exercise in literature and music,” Carthy added.
He explained that the libretto, written by John Donahue, references many different literary sources. It is loosely based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Garden of Verses for a Child”, a collection of 19th century children’s poems. Other sources include “The Odyssey”, “Ulysses” by James Joyce, “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett and “The Magus” by John Fowles. He also compares it to Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Unconsoled”, although that novel was published decades later in 1996.
The music draws from a wide range of genres – classical music in the style of Wagner, Richard and Johann Strauss, Leo Delibes and bel canto opera, 12-tone, vaudeville, jazz and ballad pop. Argento uses an untraditional eight-piece chamber ensemble that includes classical guitar and saxophone.
“You’re not supposed to search for all of these (references),” Carthy said. “All these little quotes are just part of the kaleidoscope of the whole opera. (It reflects how) we are all the result of an unfathomable number of experiences that have happened in our lives.
From the first moments, the staging and the costumes plunge the audience into the hovering universe of Argento’s imagination. Set and projection designer Ron Mueller transformed the musical theater into a train station with porcelain tile steps and massive stained glass projections.
Bright and elaborate costumes, designed by Anne Piano from sketches by Maya Hairston-Brown, lit up the stage. Each character wore a different neon color, which reflected their accessory and personality. This proved useful in telling them apart, given the omission of real names from the booklet.
For example, the Lady with the Hand Mirror (soprano Alice Del Simone) wore red – from her wig, to her dress, adorned with tiny mirrors, to her handbag. The Lady in the Cake Box (soprano Kyrie Laybourn) wore cotton candy blue with her Gwen Stefani-esque wig and a puffy dress, covered in mini magenta cakes topped with cherries. The Man with the Paint Box (tenor Paul Wolf), the only character referred to by name as Mr. Owens, wore an ocean blue suit with paint-covered palettes and had spray-painted hair.
Even Carthy and the orchestra members, who were seated on the right of the stage, wore costumes – striped red shirts that formed a sea of easily found “Where’s Waldos”.
The ensemble cast excelled with excellent individual performances. In addition to a brilliant voice, baritone Tyler Padgett as the Shoe Man sample kit demonstrated his charisma and great sense of comedic timing, especially his well-placed sniffles and hilariously frustrated interactions. with the overly dramatic Laybourn. Simone nailed her virtuoso vocal tracks, while Laybourn gave powerful and moving laments to her lost lover. Wolf’s expressive tenor voice captured the mix of longing and hope in the final scene.
In many lighter ensemble scenes, the mimes, dressed in the same outfits as the orchestra, added comic relief by playing the main characters’ tunes and waving around the puppets. The puppets often signaled pivotal moments in a character’s story and thus became thematically symbolic throughout the opera.
“The puppets later became a metaphor for us as individuals,” Holman said. “It begs the question (whether) we too are puppets. Is there something above us or in our minds that makes us less autonomous in our decisions? »
With the ambiguous ending, questions like this are never answered. Yet that seems to be the goal of Argento’s surreal opera – to reflect on and yet embrace the absurdity of life.
“Postcard from Morocco” will run for two other shows: 7:30 p.m. on Saturday April 23 and 2 p.m. on Sunday April 24. Tickets can be purchased at CU Presents here.
Contact Izzy Fincher, CU’s freelance art writer, at [email protected]