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In Review > North America

The Rose Elf

BROOKLYN
The Angel’s Share | Greenwood Cemetery
6/8/18

IN EARLY JUNE, The Angel’s Share presented what was billed as the “world premiere” of David Hertzberg’s opera The Rose Elf, a compelling and welcome addition to the operatic canon. The performances took place in the catacombs of Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery (seen June 8).

Based upon the Hans Christian Anderson story, The Rose Elf is David Hertzberg’s second one-act opera. Hertzberg provided the libretto, as well as the music. His libretto stayed true to the original story, albeit with a few practical modifications. The incestuous implications of the story—rather subtle in the original—were brought very much to the fore in the opera. The cast consisted of four singers, three of whom were required to be adept dancers. Much of the opera, particularly at the beginning, was presented as dance with periodic narration from the title character. Were one unfamiliar with the original story, it would take a while for the listener/viewer to figure out what exactly was going on, plot-wise. As the story progressed, all became much clearer. Other than The Elf, the cast each had only one real aria, relying heavily instead on dance and mime.

Hertzberg’s music is vital, colorful and dramatic. One could hear very strong influences both from the theatrical music of Debussy and from late-Romanticism, interleaved with highly modernistic stylistic aspects. It is very much to his credit that Hertzberg was able to keep the music and drama engaging in such a relentlessly dark, tragic, creepy story.

The production, directed by R. B. Schlather, featured a strong cast. In the title role, soprano Samantha Hankey gave a vividly dramatic yet otherworldly performance. The Elf narrates the murder and comments upon it and upon her disapproval of human behavior and psychology. As The Girl, soprano Alisa Jordheim showed great passion, grief and vulnerability. Tenor Kyle Bielfield gave a fine portrayal of The Beloved, with appropriate vocal sweetness. Andrew Bogard made The Brother come across in a truly menacing, profoundly powerful way. His enormous bass voice filled the room utterly.

Fortunately, the acoustic in the catacombs was very good, allowing the chamber orchestra, under the skilled direction of Teddy Poll, to go full-tilt loud without covering the voices, and to be heard with great clarity during the softer moments as well. The catacombs is a long, quite narrow room with smaller burial chambers (some of them empty) on either wall. The audience was seated along both long walls. This meant that the drama took place within inches of us, which made us all feel obliged to tuck in our feet and occasionally fear collisions with the fast-moving, gyrating dancers. At times, the drama was occurring almost in one’s lap and at other times in a spot for which the viewer had to lean out into the performance space to observe the action. Schlather’s direction was very clever and evocative, helping us to enjoy attending the opera in this space. He brilliantly used the entirety of the space, from floor to ceiling.  —Arlo McKinnon



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