Dominick DiOrio's gripping drama, "The Little Blue One," received its world premiere last night through the Juventas New Music Ensemble's yearly opera project. Juventas champions the music of promising composers under the age of 35 and the annual Juventas Opera Project gives young opera composers a chance to have their works staged and premiered before a receptive public.
"The Little Blue One" draws on a combination of myth and ageless social questions. DiOrio and librettist Meghan Guidry begin with the Italian tale of Azzurina, a young daughter of the nobleman Pietro, whose hair is dyed blue to understate her albinism. Her protective father does not let her leave the manor and Azzurina is isolated. The lonely young girl who is playing with her ball on the night of the summer solstice festivities, chases after it into the dark and is lost. Her voice haunts the manor on the night of the solstice, but she is never found.
This is the basic outline that the myth offers, but Guidry and DiOrio expand the character relationships and paint interesting, and often unsettling psychological portraits through the opera's music and text. The opera starts innocently enough with dutiful maids, a seemingly doting father, and a sympathetic officer, but relationships sour as the maids turn cruelly condescending, Pietro becomes feverishly possessive, and the officer Gennaro's intentions take a suggestive turn.
DiOrio wove a psychological labyrinth with his music, yet provided memorable musical personas and reoccurring motifs to guide the audience through the drama. The title character, Azzurina, was sung innocently by soprano Kim Lamoureux whose petite stature and delicate tone made her ideal for the part. Lamoureux communicated Azzurina's adolescent yearning with endearing bashfulness and naive determination.
Azzurina's feisty alter-ego, Arrangiarsia, was the incendiary behind much of the action and the opera's most captivating musical presence. Maggie Finnegan was confident and delightfully spry in the role of Arrangiarsia. Her focused soprano dispatched the impish melodies with precise articulation and, as the driving force behind Azzurina's undoing, her crystal tone took on chillingly derisive overtones.
Arrangiarsia is a projection of Azzurina's inner conflicts, the side of Azzurina that is repressed by the people around her.The contrast between Azzurina and Arrangiarsia, blue and red, was a central theme in the opera that was realized through character names, costuming, and overt images throughout the libretto, among many other factors. Though the text conjured relevant and often morbid images, it was DiOrio's music that really made you question the integrity of the characters.
Baritone Ryne Cherry has a voice of real beauty and his velvety tone was well-suited for Pietro's legato passages. Cherry tactfully unveils Pietro's failing mental state while instilling the disquieting suggestion of sexual abuse between father and daughter. Tenor Joshua Collier, in the role of Gennaro, presented another nebulous character. The expansive dynamic range Collier employed in his Act II aria conveyed spontaneous energy and an enigmatic character. Gennaro's seemingly genuine affection for both Azzurina and Schaveria (one of the Pietro's maids) created further uncertainty as to his true intentions.
"The Little Blue One" defies the widespread notion that contemporary classical music is inaccessible; DiOrio's score abounds with gorgeous lyricism, supported by compelling harmony. The orchestration, consisting of violin, viola, cello, clarinet, flute, piano and varied percussion with only one player on each instrument, allowed the ensemble a great deal of flexibility. The broad variety of textures ranged in body and character, sometimes full-bodied and warm, while at others wispy and furtive.
At the baton, Lidiya Yankovskaya delivered an exhilaration and well-paced performance. The very exposed orchestration placed immense musical and dramatic responsibility on each of the seven players, but the ensemble did not shrink from the task and brought a balanced sound to their playing.
"The Little Blue One" will feature April 25 at 8:00 p.m. and April 26 at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theater.