The Harvester: an operatic workshop

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Soprano Stacie Dunlop

The Harvester is a play by Paul van Dyck, identified as an intriguing story for adaptation into an opera by soprano Stacie Dunlop, who was looking for a new piece to share the bill with Erwartung (a work she was going to sing).  When she saw the play she approached the playwright to create a libretto out of his play, which he did.  That libretto was then set to music by composer Aaron Gervais.

Tonight I witnessed a workshop presented by FAWN Chamber Creative (a group I asssociate with FAWN Opera) in partnership with Aradia Ensemble.

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(L-R) Playwright & librettist Paul van Dyck, FAWN Opera artistic director Amanda Smith, Composer Aaron Gervais, and Aradia Artistic Director Kevin Mallon

Dunlop and baritone Alex Dobson gave us a semi-staged presentation with Katherine Dowling at the piano, conducted by the composer, in a score that will eventually be done by a medium-sized ensemble to be led by Aradia Music Director Kevin Mallon. Mallon, van Dyck and Gervais each gave us a bit of an introduction concerning the work, followed by the performance, a talk-back session and finally a more informal reception.

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Baritone Alexander Dobson (Photo credit Jimmy Song.)

I wanted more. The work that I saw presented tonight is a science – fiction opera, a close-up glimpse of a post—apocalyptic dystopia. While I believe that the playwright understands his story very much in terms of its realism (thinking more of dramaturgy and style than the matter of the story), I saw it very much in symbolic terms. These two views aren’t incompatible. The story unfolds believably (ergo realism) yet it concerns a man and a woman professing diametrically opposite views: as though to suggest a fundamental myth of our species, where the man and machines are part of a strategy associated with the ruin of the planet and its ecology, the woman, against the machines and seeking to heal that ruination.

And so when I say that I want more, I mean that the story was so rich with associations that I felt it could have been drawn out much longer in the musical setting. I was hungry to see more of each character, just to get closer to them, to see more of them, and especially to get deeper into their music. But of course what I am saying is in a sense the very antithesis to what one might intuitively believe is a viable commercial path – a shorter work that gets to its climax sooner—even if placing “commercially viable” and “opera” into the same sentence seems oxymoronic, given the rarity of any opera catching on.

Having seen FAWN’s methodical approach, gradually bringing Adam Scime’s L’homme et le ciel into the world and finally staging it in 2015, it’s thrilling to hear of the plan to enlarge The Harvester in its future presentations, gradually incorporating Aradia and a more comprehensive staging.

Common to both operas (Scime’s work and today’s workshop) is FAWN Artistic Director Amanda Smith, who directed the action on the stage using a bit of clever costuming (designed by Lindsay Woods), set, elaborate props and fully developed characterizations from Dobson & Dunlop. When I read some of the reviews of the play from a previous production, I can’t help thinking that the operatic treatment is helpful. There were several moments that I accepted with absolute conviction.  I find the suspension of disbelief with an opera much easier than in a spoken play.

But I wanted more, wished it were longer.

I will keep my ear to the ground, to make sure I hear about the next stage in the creation of the work. I’ll let you know.

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One Response to The Harvester: an operatic workshop

  1. Pingback: Ephemerality seeks eternity | barczablog

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