BURRY: Baby Kintyre
From Development server
Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

BURRY: Baby Kintyre

spacer Mercer, Albino, Szabó, Nash; Covey, McLennan, Tomkins; chamber ensemble, Hess. English text. Centrediscs CMCCD 20314

BabyKintCD

Chances are good that if, in real life, you happened upon the mummified remains of a baby under the floorboards of an old house, you would not sing a tender aria that starts out “Ten tiny fingers, ten tiny toes / He should be laughing, crying, playing.” This, however, is exactly what happens in Dean Burry’s radio opera Baby Kintyre, which is based on a true story that created a media sensation in Canada in 2007. That year, a Toronto home renovator (played here by James McLennan) did in fact discover tiny human remains wrapped in a newspaper dated 1925. Two investigative reporters subsequently tracked down a ninety-two-year-old woman named Rita, who in 1925 was a ten-year-old girl living in the house in question. As the story unfolded in the news eight years ago, composer Dean Burry decided that it could be an opera, and a serial opera at that — told in installments like old-time radio serials, complete with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. The result, which is divided into five episodes of seven to nine minutes each, received its premiere in 2009, in consecutive broadcasts of the CBC Radio-Canada program Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. 

Burry knows how to tell a good story with music, and the idea is definitely a winner: an operatic mystery-thriller in suspenseful, bite-sized installments could create new audiences for the art form. Happily, Burry is, for the most part, far more adept at creating convincing musical dramatization than the aforementioned dead-baby-discovery moment might imply. His colorful characters interact realistically, and although the denouement may be predictable, the scenes are consistently interesting. Tonally, the music is moderately adventurous, but not too demanding of a listener, and the vocal lines deliver Burry’s own prose libretto clearly and effectively. (Consistently good diction from the singers also helps in this regard.) Young Rita’s music is chipper and girlish but has its twists and turns, which are dealt with in accomplished fashion by the young singer Eileen Nash. Giles Tomkins’s Uncle Westley, the adulterous head of the household, has a comforting, enveloping bass-baritone and a great deal of charm. As Aunt Della, Westley’s wife, Shannon Mercer has a pleasant shimmer to her sound, then turns unexpectedly (but convincingly) hysterical during Della’s brief mad scene at the end. George, a genial houseguest who ends up moving in, is played with a leading man’s panache by the bright-voiced baritone Benjamin Covey. The femme fatale Alla Mae (Della’s sister) is sung with playful seductiveness and insinuating portamento by the charismatic Krisztina Szabó, although the ever-present leering saxophone during her passages becomes a bit excessive. One certainly feels that one is getting the entire experience from this recording, sound effects and all, since the opera was written to be heard and not seen. The seven-piece ensemble, led by pianist John Hess, performs seamlessly. This was an experiment that is well worth repeating. The disc also includes the original broadcast of the CBC Radio Metro Morning program that documented the Baby Kintyre revelations. spacer 

JOSHUA ROSENBLUM

Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.



Follow OPERA NEWS on FacebookTwitter Button