in: Reviews

October 28, 2017

Celebrating Queerness Operatically

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Halloween in Davis Square inevitably brings together Tufts University students, families, and the vibrant and wonderful Somerville queer community, packing the bars, the provincial Davis Square Theatre, and on Friday night, The Rockwell. In this exuberant context, Whole Tone Opera Company hosted an adaptation of Louis Bertin’s Le Loup-garou with new music from Molly Preston, called The Werewolf: A Fiercely Queer Opera (including musical librettist Teri Kowiak and spoken librettist J. Deschene), in the small underground comedy space, which celebrated queerness in opera in the 19th-century style. Comprising students and young professionals in the area, the company is associated with Whole Tone Music Academy, a staple for community music education on Highland Ave in Davis Square.

The night began with an opening act from Parlour Opera Players, whose A Game of Werewolf by Timothy Ayres-Kerr set the stage for Preston’s undertaking. The small box theater with a thrust proved appropriate for a reduced-scale opera of an experimental bent. Disappointingly, both companies faced frontwards for the entire show, leaving two-thirds of the audience to guess facial expressions. After Parlour’s showing came The Werewolf, complete with a marching band-style pit orchestra that supplied a weak, out-of-tune background to the partially-used stage. While the company gave a very spirited presentation of the Halloween work, the music in both acts revealed little more than an amateur attempt at clichéd Rossini.

While the costuming fashioned a very typical 19th century Victorian flair, a few choices frankly seemed bizarre, likely attempting to follow the quirky LGBTIA+ trends. One character wore a full coat of fur on top of what appeared to be jogging shorts, complete with casual loafers. Another wore a purple sports jacket, foreshadowing his genderqueer transformation. Another completely deviated from the 19th century style, wearing tight, leather pants with a lavender vest.

The shallow, vague plotlines supported neither nuance nor finesse. The apparent attempt at an edgy, risky operatic equivalent of the Rocky Horror Picture Show misjudged badly. The only antidote to the over-acted sentiments and perplexingly terrible puns, came in a pleasant lyric aria from soprano Jeila Irdmusa. The problematic celebration of queerness was most troubling; although well-intentioned, it led, for me, to a non-inclusive, forced vision instead of a welcoming celebration of LGBTQIA+.

Vincent, in a purple blazer, had the potential to rise above antiquated, cartoonish stereotypes. Towards the end of the night, Count Albéric proposed to Vincent after a fraught, heterosexual love triangle exploded, asking Vincent to be his wife, slipping a wedding dress onto his shoulders, and telling him that his “true form was waiting to be revealed.” Rather than letting Vincent conclude that he identified as a woman, instead this gender role was put upon him by Count Albéric in a selfish move to make the other two in the triangle jealous. Vincent’s gender was fetishized throughout the rest of the act, seeming to convey that gender and sexuality are one in the same.

For all who need their queer fix for Halloween week, The Werewolf: A Fiercely Queer Opera continues at The Rockwell through October 31st.

Rachael Fuller is an MIT administrator who has studied piano and music theory. By night, the concertgoer is also a practicing musicologist.

4 Comments

  1. Hey, it was a fun evening, I went on Hallowe’en as Calais and Pilgrim (a MUST SEE btw) beckoned for earlier nights–3 operas in 6 days, a mini-Glimmerglass (4 operas in 44 hours). The Main Event, The Werewolf, was Worth It. Yes, one could dispense with the curtain-raiser “A Game of Werewolf” or something like that with musical writing threatening the idea this was One-Note Opera performing (repeated notes) apparently based on a video game and demonstrating another reason to not watch TV. When that was over there was a short entr act of a costume contest before the Main Event, The Werewolf.
    One got a feeling what entertainment and art were like before the coming of radio and movies and television and their hand-held offspring; the days when the local opera house above a block of stores–think Clark Block in Natick–held sway; good clean (?) family entertainment. Yes, maybe 2nd and 3rd rate opera but some of it musically clever (real counterpoint in ensemble numbers which Broadway can no longer do). Much of the singing was quite good and so was some of the (over)acting and the opening dance ballet sequence (the French model; must have ballet); one would not mind seeing it again in a few years in a revival. Yes, homosexual stuff is now quite the rage so Whole Note Opera went with the flow–but they did not let agitating get in the way of the story and it ended as a screwball comedy should with everything in disarray and one in doubt as to who was what but willing to let it remain that way for any further resolution would only be an anticlimax. The Finale could have used a little expansion for a minute or more of music for a more convincing ending; if The Werewolf is a Work In Progress some expansion here and there is in order. After having read the review and sitting in front of the stage I was pleasantly surprised and went home feeling I had NOT wasted an evening. Chronontolog-er-etc. next!..then Burke & Hare if I can get in.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — November 1, 2017 at 11:19 pm

  2. No one has posted about Chrononothologus, or something like that, by Guerrilla Opera; I saw the last performance Guy Fawkes Day at a larger venue than the Black Box Theater for “Beowulf” last year, a safe deposit box of a space. Competent singing of challenging music and very good acting and choreography, worth seeing if they ever do it again. Now it is a challenge to turn a play that is a parody, satire, travesty, etc. of obsolete literary stiles and spectacles into an opera. Do you turn the play into a musical vehicle, or do you go for a parody of opera itself? Chrononon-etc. chose to not parody opera but rather turn the play into a musical vehicle. Must say it is the absurdist story which is a parody/travesty of literary conventions circa 1734 that carries the day rather than the music tho’ the music did not get in the way of the story. In fact the ending is not convincing and needs changed; having the story gradually over seconds be left behind for a segueing into a treating of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach from ca. 1867. Afterwards I argued with Susan Larsen over this; Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” (“There curfew shall not ring to-night” or something like that) would have been more fitting for the period for Chronon-etc.. Why subject poor Matthew Arnold to the Henry Carey treatment? What did he do to deserve that? “Call a coach, and let a coach be called”; that pompous literary style deserved being parodied as much as “The Da Vinci Code” cried out for parody (the old Boston Phoenix DID do a number on that one). It did not help that I confuse “Dover Beach” the poem with “Dover Harbor” the Pullman car (I’ll hear from John Ehrlich for that one). Composing King Chronon-etc.s crown out of silverware and other staging conceits abounded in this production; the actors pulled materials from several trunks at the rearof the stage when needed. There was a shadow play for part of the story with actors visibly holding lights for the purpose, parodying spectacular stage effects. One wonders how this work would fare under a less imaginative director, which leads to the idea that a revival should rewrite the ending to “do in” Gray’s Elegy and have one pratfall to end the piece on a comic note which Chrononon-etc. sorely needed afther this “tragic relief” in a comedy.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — November 6, 2017 at 6:33 am

  3. Not a word about the singers in an opera review?!!

    Comment by William Fregosi — November 9, 2017 at 8:21 am

  4. The reviewer cited one singer. Maybe the others were lucky not to be named.

    Comment by denovo2 — November 9, 2017 at 9:27 am

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