Tragically Good 'Furies' Premieres at Catholic U.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Looking for an anodyne to Valentine's Day frippery? Consider the Greek tragedies of the House of Atreus, wherein all love goes wrong. Here are incest, patricide, matricide and filicide -- the crime that sets Aeschylus's "Oresteia" trilogy in motion. These tales have inspired music, drama (T.S. Eliot's "The Family Reunion") and parody (Peter Schickele's "Iphigenia in Brooklyn"). For the Catholic University-based husband-and-wife team of composer Andrew Earle Simpson and librettist Sarah Brown Ferrario, they inspired three operas -- one for each play.

The last of these, "The Furies," premiered this past weekend at Ward Recital Hall. Based on "Eumenides," it tells of the end of the Atreus curse and the Athenian establishment of trial by jury to replace the ancient harshness of the Furies -- whose new name, Eumenides, means "ladies of good will."

In libretto and music, Ferrario and Simpson are faithful to Aeschylus's spirit. The music neatly tracks the transformation of Furies to Eumenides: Dark, dense and difficult at first, it moves from dissonance toward consonance as the one-act opera progresses, eventually attaining lyricism.

At Sunday's performance, Bridgid Eversole looked and sounded stunning as Athena. James Rogers was appropriately stentorian as Apollo, Charmaine Sims-McGilvary was menacing as Klytemnestra's ghost, and Alexander Kugler was plaintive as Orestes. The 12 Furies' frightfulness was heightened by outstanding lighting and excellent deployment of the small set. The chamber ensemble, conducted by Adam Turner, played spiritedly. And the final chorus, "Be gracious and just," actually isn't a bad Valentine's Day message after all.

-- Mark J. Estren

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