Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Review: Seance on a Wet Afternoon at the New York City Opera

Seance on a Wet Afternoon is Stephen Schwartz's first opera and it straddles the line between musical theater and opera. This is no surprise, as Stephen Schwartz is the composer and lyricist of such musicals as Pippin, Godspell, and the mega-hit Wicked. As someone with an admittedly limited knowledge of opera, I found Seance on a Wet Afternoon more accessible than other operas I've been to because of those blurred lines between opera and musical.

The opera, playing at the New York City Opera through May 1, is directed by Schwartz's son, Scott Schwartz. It's based on the 1964 film of the same name (which was based on a novel by Mark McShane). Myra Foster (Lauren Flanigan) is a medium who has a plan to get the recognition she thinks she deserves. She convinces her husband Bill (Kim Josephson) to kidnap a young girl (Bailey Grey) so that Myra can be a hero when she uses her visions to find the girl. As things start to spiral out of control, the story becomes darker and more disturbing, but it's also gripping and the 2 hours and 45 minutes go by very fast.

Schwartz's lyrics are fairly straightforward, making the story easy to follow, but they are also not terribly original or profound. The music, however, is lovely. There are some moments, such as when the reporters gather around the house to sing about the scandal, that are reminiscent of "No One Mourns The Wicked" and other big ensemble numbers in Wicked, but that's not to say that Schwartz is simply repeating what he's done before. He's taking a risk here and it mostly pays off.

He is helped by getting a visually striking production. Heidi Ettinger's sets have an ominous quality. The Foster home, with it's pointy roof, looks like a witch's house out of a fairy tale. A curtain looks like rain falling from the sky creates the backdrop.

The cast is excellent all around. Flanigan really captures Myra's undoing and instability. Josephson plays Bill with a tenderness and torment that makes him the most fascinating character. It's refreshing to see two young actors, Grey and Michael Kepler Meo as the ghost of Myra's son Arthur, who are so capable of commanding the stage.

If rock operas are still considered musicals, then I see no reason why an opera with hints of musical theater can't still be an opera. Ultimately, I'm more concerned with how a show makes me feel than what to label it.

Photo credit: David Bazemore

No comments: