By Show and Tell
By Bree Davies
By Bree Davies
By Cory Casciato
By Emilie Johnson
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davis
By Josiah M. Hesse
Admittedly, Amahl and Unicorn are easy and accessible pieces, and I knew Bleecker Street would be more complex and harder to grasp. Still, I expected a blissful evening. I was not put off by the plot, which concerns a young woman whose religious visions galvanize her Italian community in New York's West Village and her brother's skeptical response. I assumed that in 1954, when Menotti wrote the opera, American Catholicism was open-hearted, a fount of mystically charged imagery, and hadn't yet joined hands with the reductive forces of today's religious right.
And yet, I disliked Bleecker Street. Viscerally. By the end, as the sainted Annina breathed her last, I found myself wriggling in my seat, wondering if the woman was ever going to die. The man sitting next to me, who'd once sung in a Christmas production of Amahl, had vanished during the first intermission, along with a few other members of the audience.
I lack the musical sophistication to analyze the score. Perhaps it contains many delights for true aficionados. But to me, the sound was jangling, teasing and unpleasant. A few notes seemed to promise melody that never came. The passages of recitative — one went something like "What time is it?" "Seven o'clock" — were downright comical. As ever in this venue, the singing was first-rate: Christina Martos as Annina, Derek Taylor as her brother Michele, Philip Cokorinos as the priest Don Marco and Christine Brandes as a neighbor. Kirstin Chavez was electrifying as Michele's sexy and ill-fated lover, Desideria. But all I could think about was how much I'd like to hear these people singing something else.
Religious literature is filled with stories of young girls who hear voices and receive stigmata, and the question of whether these phenomena mark them as saints or hysterics is a fascinating one. It's generally believed that Menotti intended Annina and Michele to represent two sides of his own psyche. But his libretto has neither the subtlety nor the ambiguity needed to explore ideas like this. The characters are entirely one-dimensional, Annina purely and simply good, Michele one of those stereotypical moody rebellious 1950s types (appropriately leather-jacketed here). We think at first that Michele's anger is fueled by what he sees as the church's exploitation of his sister, which would make for an interesting plot, but eventually learn that he has incestuous feelings for her, a development that adds melodrama and muddies the water without adding any richness to the theme.
Usually, I drive down the mountain after an evening at Central City Opera filled with joy, but The Saint of Bleecker Street left me as jagged and irritable as the Poet's Manticore, with his quilled back and diet of bitter herbs.