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'Opera on Demand V' serves up cake, robots, lottery winners, et al.

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Intimate Opera

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“Hoosier Connections: Opera on Demand V,” presented by Intimate Opera Saturday at the IndyFringe Theater, was an ideal opportunity not only for opera fans but also for those with little exposure or none at all to enjoy the art form in an informal, non-traditional setting.

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“Small Opera, Big Impact” is the tag line for Intimate Opera, founded in 2011, “to present underperformed staged music and local talent to the Indianapolis area.” Focused on holding their productions in small spaces with a limited audience size, the organization couldn’t have done better than to present its latest offering in the 100-seat IndyFringe venue. It’s a former church in the Mass Ave. arts district in downtown Indianapolis, popular with independent and small performing arts organizations.

The hour-long program for “Hoosier Connections: Opera on Demand V” consisted of five full-length operas. It featured four Midwest premieres, three works by Indiana composers and the world’s shortest opera with a length of fewer than four minutes. Singers and musicians comprised the 40 artists participating. Performed on a bare stage, each opera utilized minimal sets, furniture and props.

The cast of “A Hand of Bridge,” by noted composer Samuel Barber, featured Detra Carter, Emmi Malcolmson, Blake Kendall and Christopher Parker. They played four people involved in two dissatisfied relationships. While playing a hand of bridge, each character expressed his/her inner desires through four ariettas. Each maintaining a “poker face,” they revealed such thoughts as the purchase of a hat, an affair, a dying mother and sexual frustration. Though an interesting premise, and sung well, the piece suffered from a lackluster tempo.

“Cake,” by Indiana native John Chittum, told the story of Sarah (Mariel Gonzalez) and her quest to buy a cake for her son. Though seemingly an ordinary situation, it became something entirely different when she began to fantasize that the Old Woman (Kim Wallace) baking the cake was a witch and a Young Woman working at the bakery (Carissa Riedsel)was a fairy godmother. Later things turned a little dark once it is discovered that she never had a son in the first place. Wallace stood out for her character’s quirky mannerisms and soprano Gonzalez’s passionate delivery while singing the piece’s dissonant score was palpable. Soprano Riedsel stood out not only in this piece but also two others in the program that she appeared in as well.

Composer Peter Reynold’s “The Sands of Time,” the world’s shortest opera, lasting less than four minutes, starred Sarah O’Brien and Thom Brown. They played a warring couple, Flo and Stan, who argued over breakfast until good news came to the door in the form of visitors (chorus: Rachel Konchinsky-Pate and Carissa Riedesel) who informed them that they had won the lottery. With music written in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan, this particular piece was an absolute delight.

Charon” was the most compelling opera in the program. It is by local composer Scott Perkins, and is based on the story of the ferryman of Hades, in Greek mythology, who carries souls of the newly deceased across the river Styx. But in this adaptation there is a twist. Humans have all died, due to circumstances associated with a modern world that is falling apart, so Charon has no more passengers to deliver. Bass Jerome Sibulo turned in a dynamic performance as Charon and strong ones were given by Steve Wrighton as Man, Amy Elaine Hayes as Woman, Kim Wallace as Wife, and Steven Linville as Husband. Once again showing presence, Carissa Riedesel was a very convincing child. Rachel Konchinsky-Pate directed and Heidetaka Niyama conducted Jennifer Peacock and Pat Rozenbook who masterfully played the two piano arrangement created by Perkins specifically for this production.

Bill Kloppenburg, another Indiana native, composed “Fear Not the Robot,” a lighthearted and whimsical “puppet opera” about invading puppets who wreak havoc on a human being, but in the end the story’s chain of events turns out to be only a dream. Adding to the piece's absurdity were the production's cheesy puppets and props. Proving that opera doesn’t always have to be serious and can even be nonsensical good fun was a cast that included Carissa Riedesel as the Narrator, Jerome Sibolu as Joe and the chorus consisting of Amy Elaine Hayes, Blake Kendall, Rachel Konchinsky-Pate, Chris Parker and Kim Wallace.

Poor acoustics and/or the sound of the amplified keyboard(s) overpowering the singers made it sometimes difficult to hear the mostly English lyrics during each of the operas, so consequently the librettos were sometimes difficult to follow. Nevertheless this writer was impressed, overall, with Intimate Opera’s presentation, the vocal talents of the singers and the works by the Indiana composers. In addition to its artistic efforts, the organization also deserves plaudits for its innovative efforts in making opera both accessible and entertaining.

For information about upcoming Intimate Opera performances visit www.intimateopera.org.

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