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Miss Fortune

Bregenz Festival     

In Review Bregenz Miss Fortune hdl 1111
What Fate has in store: Stewart and Bell in Miss Fortune world premiere
© Bregenzer Festspiele/Karl Forster 2011

British composer Judith Weir created a bit of a stir in 1987 with her first opera, A Night at the Chinese Opera, but truly claimed fame with her 1994 thriller Blond Eckbert, which continues to receive productions around the world. Weir's latest work, Miss Fortune, had its world premiere in Bregenz on July 20. A co-commission with Covent Garden, Miss Fortune will have its first British performances in March 2012 and its U.S. premiere at Santa Fe Opera in summer 2014. 

Even though I swore I wouldn't take advantage of the title's obvious invitation to the opera's detractors, I can only say that Miss Fortune is misfortunate in every aspect of its unrelentingly miserable ninety minutes (seen July 28).

Weir's own libretto, based on a Sicilian fairy tale, is juvenile, inept and difficult to sing. It's as if she had never written for the voice before; she places accents and consonants at the least logical places. The score, which seems to have little to do with the text, causes the work's downfall. It is over-orchestrated — I sympathized with the poor singers, who had to blast to be heard — and wallows in gloom for its entirety. There's some interesting choral writing and a big splashy finale, but it's far too little too late in the game.

The story deals with the financial demise of the upper-crust Lord and Lady Fortune and focuses on their rebellious teenage daughter, Tina, who refuses to join them on their secret island getaway (not very well disguised as the Caymans) in favor of experiencing the real world.

But Fate has other things in store and leads Tina through such horrors as singing an aria about adventure while standing on "a dark, gloomy, urban street" where "sinister things are going on in the shadows"; becoming a cleaning woman in a sweatshop, where Fate's Gang, a spidery gaggle of break-dancers, destroys the sewing machines when Tina is left to lock up. Tina decides to help Hassan, a kebab-van entrepreneur, but — surprise — Fate's Gang wrecks and explodes the stand when Hassan leaves Tina to guard his livelihood. Tina takes a job ironing shirts at Donna's Laundromat, where she meets her Prince Charming, a businessman named Simon, who whisks her off to a new life, but only after Fate plays a trick on her with a winning lottery ticket, which Tina disperses to the teeming masses. "Take your chance before your lucky day has ended," advises Tina, as Fate (pointing into the audience) declares he will follow "you, and YOU!"

Conductor Paul Daniel did his best to drown out the cast, while Chen Shi-Zheng's production did little to enlighten us. Indeed, the stage was dominated by two trapezoidal sculptures by Tom Pye that lit up, twisted and turned, and onto which textures and images were projected.

Emma Bell tackled the marathon title role, but neither she nor her listeners seemed to be enjoying themselves. The most pleasant singing came from American tenor Noah Stewart as Hassan, who has the only tuneful music in the show. Jacques Imbrailo showed a lovely high baritone as Simon, and Anne-Marie Owens made a sympathetic Donna. Countertenor Andrew Watts was appropriately odious as Fate. spacer


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