Das Blümelein Project (The Little Flower Project) presented song cycles in theatrical productions at the Winspear Opera on Thursday. The interpretations were certainly imaginative, but the results were mixed.
The concert was the final installment of the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Elevator Project, which features local bands. It also marked the start of the Dallas-Fort Worth area classical music season and attracted a younger and more diverse audience than a typical classical music performance.
The spectators were masked and seated on risers on stage. The singers were at the top of the stage, facing the audience.
The concert lasted two hours with an intermission but seemed longer, prefaced by director Morgan Horning while reading the program booklet notes. Styles ranged from English Renaissance music and German Romanticism to American Modernism.
The main event was A lily among the thorns. Designed and directed by Samantha Dapcic, the new production combines and reorganizes the orchestral song cycles of American composer John La Montaine Songs of the Rose of Sharon (1947) and Fragments of the Song of Songs (1959), as well as a piano transcription of his 2 scenes from the Song of Songs (1978). Due to COVID-19, vocal accompaniments have been offered in piano reductions.
La Montaine’s works are inspired by the Song of Songs, a series of biblical poems detailing the intimate pleasures between single lovers. The narrator, called the Rose of Sharon, presents herself as a strong figure who acts decisively on her desires.
A lily among the thorns takes place in three scenes in about an hour. Rose goes to meet her lover in a secret garden, but he is not there. She goes looking for him and is beaten and undressed on the way. Rose returns to the garden, where she sleeps at night. Her lover appears the next morning, and they are reunited. It was often difficult to follow the plot due to the lack of surtitles or printed lyrics in the program notes.
The active piano part contains great clicky dissonances, impressionistic coloring, quick staccatos, and delicate rhapsodic flourishes.
Vocal melodies are almost always long and arched, giving a one-dimensional impression. Soprano Erica Simmons as Rose did all she could with the limited equipment, providing shaping lines and spinning high notes with a beautiful silvery tone. His low register, meanwhile, was full-bodied. Pianist Esme Wong has proven to be a skillful collaborator, performing with vibrant urgency.
With Afritina Coker’s sets depicting a bedroom and a garden, Dapcic’s staging brought the monodrama to life. Akilah Whitaker dressed Simmons in fancy costumes. Lisa Miller’s lighting highlighted Simmons’ mood swings. Representing “Sensual Spirits”, dancers Heather McKay and Ally DesJardins performed fluid and graceful movements in a choreography by McKay.
cycle of songs by Robert Schumann, Frauenliebe und Leben (A Woman’s Love and Life) (1840), describes a couple’s relationship from a woman’s perspective, beginning with infatuation and going through engagement, marriage, childbirth and death of her husband.
The cycle generally employs a voice and a piano, but here two sopranos alternate singing alone. Bethany Mamola’s dark and rich timbre and Agostina Migoni’s lighter, warm tone complemented each other well. Yet their voices were engulfed by the great hall, even in close-up, on stage.
The singers gave a lively expression to the ruminative sections. The faster songs, however, needed more wit and direction.
Pianist Hannah Abercrombie provided careful accompaniment to the singers. However, striking motifs could have been more emphasized.
According to the program’s libretto, the singers are meant to portray Clara Schumann – a full-fledged piano virtuoso and songwriter – although there are no visual clues to support this. If you didn’t already know the story, it was once again difficult to follow without surtitles or printed text.
The biggest failure of the evening came in a virtual production. American composer Libby Larsen Try me, good king (2000), for soprano and piano, stages the alleged last words of five wives of King Henry VIII. Two wives divorced, two were beheaded and another died after giving birth. Larsen weaves Elizabethan lute songs into the musical tapestry of the room, mixing modernist harmonies and catchy rhythms.
On a stage screen, videos showed five sopranos in various settings: walking in the woods; bottle-feeding a baby at home; floating in a pool – while lip-syncing with their pre-recorded tracks. These depictions, devised by director Morgan Horning, seemed shocking given the historical circumstances surrounding the texts.
Released through speakers on stage, the recording appeared distant and viscerally weak. Having a singer play with a live pianist would have been much more effective.
Resumption at 8 p.m. on September 3 and 4 at Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St., $ 29.50. Attpac.org, 214-880-0202.