‘A Family Reunion’: Four children and a widow sing their troubles in a new opera

December 1, 2013

Members of a dysfunctional family come together as the widowed family matriarch is fading into confusion. Each of the four grown children is dealing with personal issues — a partner dies, a husband drinks, a single mother of two copes, and the eldest daughter watches her life drift away as she tends her mother. The whole familiar schmear plays itself out through the two hour-long acts of the new opera “A Family Reunion,” which the In Series premiered at the Gala Theater on Saturday.

The opera, 20 years in gestation, is the work of librettist Bill Moses (who directed this production) and the late composer Chris Patton, and with a cast of nine and an “orchestra” of six, it just barely fits into the “pocket opera” category that Carla Hubner and her In Series company have espoused as their focus so imaginatively over the years.

As might be expected in an inaugural flight, both the opera itself and the production need tightening. There are transitions to be rethought, instrumental-vocal balances that could use some adjusting and timing that needs to be rejiggered (to do this, some of the music itself needs rejiggering), but this is a touching work with lovely music and excellent possibilities.

The strengths of the cast lie in their acting and in the vocal ensembles. There are no great voices here, and even in the Gala’s small space, lines and words regularly got lost in the instrumental accompaniment. But personalities and relationships spoke loudly and eloquently. Laura Lewis as the mother renews her relationships with her children, played by Anastasia Robinson, Sean Pflueger, Alexandra Linn and Patricia Portillo. Also weaving in and out of the drama are Andrew Adelsberger as the son-in-law; the two grandchildren, sung by Brian Shaw and Alessandro Topa; and Nephi Sanchez as the spirit of the deceased father.

Music director Paul Leavitt conducted the onstage string quintet from the keyboard with a sure sense of momentum that was accommodating to both the singers and the needs of the drama, and Osbel Susman-Peña’s set was attractive and flexible.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

A Family Reunion

an opera by librettist William Moses and composer Chris Patton, directed by Moses. Set, Osbel Susman-Peña. Musical direction, Paul Leavitt. About two hours plus intermission. Tickets $20 to $38. Repeats Monday and Friday evening, with a Sunday matinee at the Gala Hispanic Theater, 3333 14th St. NW. Call 202-204-7760
or visit www.inseries.org.

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