OPERA NEWS - Three Way
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In Review > North America

Three Way

Brooklyn Academy of Music, American Opera Projects

The Act III masquerade in Three Way at BAM
© Steven Pisano

IN JUNE, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), in conjunction with American Opera Projects, presented the New York premiere performances of composer Robert Paterson and librettist David Cote’s Three Way, a three-act opera designed also to work as three independent one-act works (seen June 15). The performances in the BAM Fisher were enhanced by the participation of the cast and creative team from Nashville Opera’s world-premiere performances of Three Way in January of this year.

As its title suggests, Three Way explores various forms of unorthodox sex. Act I, The Companion, dealt with a young career woman, Maya; her android lover, Joe; and a lovesick computer technician, Dax. As Maya, soprano Danielle Pastin gave a beautiful and powerful performance. She was at her best in the aria “What I Want,” in which she explains to the repairman and the (apparently) dormant robot what she is really looking for in a man. Bass-baritone Wes Mason made a strong impression as Dax. In his interactions with Maya he showed a mix of desire and cynicism. His defiant, heroic aria expressing his dismay at the human condition was one of the high points of the evening. Tenor Samuel Levine portrayed the android, Joe, with the proper combination of wit and detachment. That said, his aria near the end revealed Joe to have seemingly more sensitivity and understanding of love than either of the humans.

Act II, Safe Word, deals with a client’s appointment with a dominatrix. The plot has many twists and turns—some humorous, some anything but— including some surprises. The chromatic shifts of harmony and mood in this act made for the most intriguing music of the evening. Mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet (Mistress Salome) and bass-baritone Matthew Treviño (The Client) were perfectly paired, providing musical power and dramatic excellence. On every level, this was a captivating performance.

Act III, Masquerade, dealt with an orgy in the upscale home of a well-seasoned pair of swingers. The invitees include a couple (Courtney Ruckman as Jessie and Samuel Levine as Marcus) trying out this lifestyle for the first time; a pair of regular attendees (Danielle Pastin as Connie and Wes Mason as Larry); and an androgynous, postgender couple (Melisa Bonetti as Tyler and Jordan Rutter as Kyle—“You can call us Kyler!”). This act is a loving homage to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. One can easily draw comparisons between the opera’s Larry and the Bard’s Bottom, between “Kyler” and Puck, or between Jessie & Marcus and Hermia & Demetrius. Benignly overseeing the action, Bonet’s Jillian and Treviño’s Bruce made great stand-ins for Titania and Oberon. The opera contains much humor but also arias that express poignant moments of self-doubt and loneliness. My one small complaint is that the concluding chorus, in which the cast gives air to what the evening has meant, goes on too long. Paterson and Cote had created stage magic here, but the drawn-out explanatory conclusion dissolved this magic ambience all too soon.

In an interview in the program, Cote pointed out that in contrast to many current opera teams, he and Paterson come from within the tradition, rather than, say, being people from the rock or the cinematic world, and so approached their creative tasks with a deep love, respect and understanding of operatic conventions. This was clearly apparent throughout Three Way and contributed to this listener’s enjoyment. Paterson is a highly skilled composer who writes in a melodic, tonal style. His versatility was most impressive and his scoring was superb. It gave the outstanding musicians of the American Modern Ensemble the type of rewarding challenges that players most welcome, yet in ways that neither interfered with hearing the singers nor distracted from the drama. Cote’s libretto was lively and delicious, never trite, never obvious. John Hoomes’s stage direction was clever, efficient and engaging, and Dean Williamson conducted with elegance and enthusiasm.

Three Way is an excellent comic opera that will appeal to audiences well steeped in opera as well as those who—as with Masquerade’s Jessie and Marcus—are new to the experience.  —Arlo McKinnon

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