“As Victor Frankenstein, tenor Brian Cheney was the ideal counterpart. He very ably expressed the Victor’s horror, panic and regret over the evil his work has wrought.” OPERA NEWS
Jennifer Johnson Cano, Joshua Jeremiah, Brian Cheney
The Angel’s Share | Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery
AS PART OF ITS PERFORMANCE SERIES The Angel’s Share, Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery presented concerts featuring the music of composer Gregg Kallor, a rising star in the music world. The program featured sketches from his opera-in progress, Frankenstein, a solo piano tribute to Leonard Bernstein, and Kallor’s setting of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous short story The Tell-Tale Heart. Both Selections from Frankenstein and The Tell-Tale Heart were staged, theatrical productions. The performances occurred in The Catacombs, an extensive, nineteenth-century mausoleum, deep within the cemetery grounds. OPERA NEWS attended the October 12 performance.
Wisely, Kallor has returned to Mary Shelly’s wonderful novel for inspiration and guidance in his Frankenstein opera, instead of relying on the film versions of the story. His treatment is serious, emotionally moving and not at all kitschy. The Selections focused upon the first extended interaction between Frankenstein and his creature, in which the unnamed being relates the story of his life after he left his creator’s laboratory. This long segment is in the form of a dialogue that in large part was actually more two consecutive monologues. As the created being, one who in fact is both more insightful and clever than his creator, bass/baritone Joshua Jeremiah fully captured his character’s pathos and pathology. His was a very moving portrayal of a profoundly lonely, confused, angry, vengeful person. He was utterly convincing in his narration of how he had to figure out everything, including how to speak intelligibly, on his own. His explanation to Frankenstein as to the obligations he feels his creator has to him and his threats of the consequences if Frankenstein refuses to create a mate for him. As Victor Frankenstein, tenor Brian Cheney was the ideal counterpart. He very ably expressed the Victor’s horror, panic and regret over the evil his work has wrought. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano gave a fine, sympathetic depiction of Elizabeth, Victor’s loving and supportive fiancé. Here, as in The Tell-Tale Heart, Kallor achieved a perfect balance of text and music. The libretto hued quit
e closely to Mary Shelly’s original text, serving as a welcome reminder of her wonderful prose. Kallor’s music is a most interesting synthesis of elements of classical and jazz, galvanized into a singular compositional voice. There is plenty of heartfelt lyricism in his music, yet also enough complexity to keep it intriguing for those of us who seek more. As in The Tell-Tale Heart, the singers were accompanied by Kallor at the piano and by the superb Joshua Roman on cello. The lines performed on the cello frequently echoed or foreshadowed the melodic lines of the singers to convincing effect, while the piano provided the solid foundation.
Selections from Frankenstein was followed by a brief speech by the composer and then by the world premiere of The answer is: Yes, a piano tribute to Leonard Bernstein. The occasion for this work was to celebrate the centenary of Bernstein’s birth. The title is derived from the conclusion of Bernstein’s famous Norton lectures at Harvard. It is further noteworthy that Bernstein’s remains are interred in Greenwood Cemetery. The work itself was of about five minutes duration. Kallor did not make use of direct quotations, opting instead for a jazz-inflected showpiece of completely original music. The results were a lot like the effect of so much of Bernstein’s own music; charming, but not profound.
The concert concluded with a powerful performance featuring Jennifer Johnson Cano in Kallor’s The Tell-Tale Heart. Written for soprano, ‘cello and piano, this piece colorfully relays Poe’s haunting tale almost verbatim and in toto. It is simultaneously macabre and, at moments, darkly humorous. With the vision of hindsight, it can be seen as a study piece for the Frankenstein opera, although I doubt this was the composer’s original intention. In any event, it is a grand tour de force for both singer and ensemble. Johnson Cano proved worthy of its challenges. As with the Selections from Frankenstein, The Tell-Tale Heart benefited from the sensitive stage direction of Sarah Meyers. Meyers used the space most effectively in productions that successfully were evocative yet unobtrusive. —Arlo McKinnon