Samuel Barber's tiny "A Hand of Bridge" shows two couples playing cards and singing their streams of consciousness -- for the audience, not their partners. One wife sings, "I want to buy that hat of peacock feathers," while her husband fantasizes about an orgy with "20 naked girls, 20 naked boys, tending to my pleasure."
"Who is there to love me?" wonders the second wife, while her husband invokes a lost mistress: "Cymbeline, Cymbeline, where can you be tonight?" It is the tightest-packed five minutes in opera, this side of the Sextet from "Lucia," with outstanding music by Barber and a vintage libretto by Gian-Carlo Menotti.
It was wonderfully performed by Opera DC last night in the first of five performances to be presented in Carroll Hall at 10th and G streets NW. All four singers -- Ann Hart, Beth Botsis, Paul McIlvaine and Sterling Scroggins -- were in excellent form, with Scroggins sounding notably better than in the first of the evening's three small operas, "The Face on the Barroom Floor."
"Barroom" and the evening's final opera, "Emperor Norton," are both the work of Henry Mollicone, an American composer with a flair for vocal lyricism, and both were presented by the same company in 1982. "Norton," the story of an eccentric San Francisco street person of the 1850s, packs a lot of fine material into its brief span and is considerably more credible than "Barroom," in which two women are killed in the same saloon, with the same gun, a century apart. All four singers from the 1982 "Norton" production have substantially improved performances that were very good the last time. Lewis Freeman is outstanding in the leading role, with excellent partnership from Joan Morton, good supporting roles by Debora Madsen and inventive, well-focused stage direction by Muriel Von Villas. Pianist-conductor Edward Roberts paces and accents the music well.
Opening-night problems plagued "Barroom," but they should be somewhat alleviated in later performances. Otherwise, this triple feature has a lot of freshness and vitality.