Review: New opera tells emotionally intense story of 'Dark Sisters'
Pittsburgh Opera's annual January productions at Creative and Performing Arts High School have built a loyal following. The shows feature uncommonly interesting repertoire, often contemporary opera, performed by the company's resident artists.
The large audience Jan. 25, which was undeterred by the snow and chill, was rewarded with a compelling performance of Nico Muhly's “Dark Sisters.” Muhly, 32, is both prolific and a hot commodity. His first full-length opera was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, which gave the premiere in October 2013.
“Dark Sisters” is a chamber opera for seven singers and 13 instrumentalists. It was first performed in 2011, the same year as the musical “The Book of Mormon.”
The sisters are the wives in a polygamist family living in the west. The opera opens just after state officials have seized all the children under the suspicion they are being abused and forced to marry by male members of the section.
Muhly's musical language is imaginative, flexible and unfailingly well-conceived dramatically. His declamation rings true.
The opera opens with the sisters entering one by one, singing of their lost children. It's a scene that builds to emotionally intense five-part counterpoint. The emotions are individual. When the sisters are emotionally together, the vocal parts are together, too.
Muhly and librettist Stephen Karam treat the family's values with respect and sincerity, as well as its assertion of religious freedom. That's not to say they sugarcoat the views of the husband and father, the self-proclaimed Prophet. By normal standards, he's extremely manipulative and paternalistic.
The crucial dramatic conflict within the family begins when one of the sisters, Eliza, asks why only he receives revelations. Jasmine Muhammd gives an intense but finely nuanced portrayal of Eliza, who will break free of the family at the end of the opera.
The other sisters were all well cast. Meredith Lustig 'and Samantha Korbey, as Zina and Presendia, were favored wives who speculate about who will sleep with the Prophet that night, and aren't above a little catty dialoque ended by referring to the rule for the wives — “be sweet.”
Nicole Rudin gave impressive dimension to Ruth, an older sister “out to pasture,” who mourns her dead sons and will commit suicide in the second act. Alexandra Loutsion emphasized the sweetnes and compassion of Almera.
Joseph Barron was formidable as the Prophet, singing with impressive legato when presenting a vision. Although we see him hugging his wives, and speaking of family love, the Prophet is an opaque character.
Barron also played King, a television personality complete with Larry King-style suspenders, in the first scene of Act II. Although the sisters start by maintaining unanimity in making the public case for the return of their children, Eliza breaks ranks and reveals she was married at 16 and wants better for her daughter, Lucinda.
Rebecca Belczyk was emotionally direct as Lucinda, who chooses to stay with the family when her mother leaves at the end of the opera.
Resident artist stage director George Cedarquist handled the characterizations and stage space with skill. Glenn Lewis and the excellent ensemble made Muhly's imaginative orchestration a vital part of the action.
Pittsburgh Opera's production of Nico Muhly's “Dark Sisters' will be repeated at 7 p.m. Jan. 27, 8 p.m. Jan. 30 and 2 p.m. Feb. 2 at Creative and Performing Arts High School, 101 Ninth Street, Downtown. Admission is $50. Details: 412-456-6666 or www.pittsburghopera.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kelly Clarkson to play First Niagara Pavilion on July 19
- Pittsburgh producer revives, re-airs an expanded ‘Motown 25 ’
- Saxophonist Carter proves he’s up to any musical challenge
- James Carter Organ Trio brings new energy, new metrics, new swagger
- Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra looks at masters
- Microtonal music festival goes off the beaten scale in Pittsburgh
- PLS Trio seems like more voices on ‘East River’
- PSO’s Honeck coaxes orchestral brilliance in ballet themes