Jenna Lebherz and Ethan Watermeier help bring Edward Hopper paintings to life.
Jenna Lebherz and Ethan Watermeier help bring Edward Hopper paintings to life. (By Cory Weaver)

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Maryland Opera Studio

If you turned five paintings into live action videos, you would have accomplished what composer John Musto and librettist Mark Campbell did in their vital new opera, "Later the Same Evening: An Opera Inspired by Five Paintings of Edward Hopper." It was given its world premiere by the Maryland Opera Studio on Thursday night at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

The tightly paced production -- really a tragicomedy -- is based on the American realist's oils, currently on view at the National Gallery of Art. Directed by opera veteran Leon Major, the entire production re-creates the stark realism of Hopper's cityscapes and still lifes of New York in the wake of the Great Depression: "Room in New York," "Hotel Window," "Hotel Room," "Two on the Aisle" and "Automat."

Set on an early evening in 1932, the story line follows disconnected, warring couples and bereft individuals who find themselves colliding in a chance encounter at a Broadway musical. Their momentary togetherness extends to a post-performance downpour, then a return to their separate lives, though there are happy endings in a few cases. Campbell's libretto wends its lively way with mournful soliloquies and biting dialogues between characters painfully unaware of anyone else's concerns.

Conductor Glen Cortese led the singers and the National Gallery Orchestra in an exciting performance; Musto's music courses through impressions of unhinged tonal harmonies along with brilliantly conceived counterpoint, especially in the cast's magnificently rendered ensembles. The vocal solos often waft into heightened expression, capturing the pitches and rhythms of real speech.

All the singers were uniformly excellent. Kudos are also deserved for the versatile true-to-life sets, with their stunning projections of the paintings, the penetrating fluorescent illumination and the Hopperesque costuming.

The opera is a joint project of the National Gallery, the Clarice Smith Center and the university's school of music. It repeats today and tomorrow at the center and on Dec. 2 at the National Gallery.

-- Cecelia Porter

Jonatha Brooke

Jonatha Brooke and Nick Lachey wouldn't seem to have much in common: She's a singer-songwriter who has released her last five albums on her own label, while he's an alumnus of the boy band 98 Degrees. Yet Brooke recently penned several songs for Lachey, one of which -- "Keep the River on Your Right" -- was one of the bolder numbers from her solo show on Thursday night at the Barns at Wolf Trap.

That song's sassiness stood out against her earlier songs, which were sweeter and more dulcet: "Glass Half Empty" and the stunning "It Matters Now" may appear to be sad breakup songs, but Brooke's ever-smiling demeanor rescued them from the cliche of angry-girl rock and turned them, instead, into the pensive recollections of a woman who has made it into a healthier situation.

That charming persona made Brooke herself the real draw of the evening, almost more so than her songs. She was delightful every time she spoke, and she deviated from her set list to play a surprise treat, "I'll Be Right There," a lilting lullaby penned for an as-yet-unfinished "Dumbo" sequel.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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