UrbanArias is a small opera company that presents an annual mini-festival of mostly new chamber operas in a black-box theater at Rosslyn’s Artisphere. The hope is that such a company can reinvigorate the moribund world of opera, because it champions work that other companies cannot or will not. A listener looking for opera in all of its irrational extravagance, the art form in which music and stage grandeur deliver the largest emotional punch of them all, might be disappointed by the experience.
The company’s second production this year is a double bill of one-act pieces, heard Sunday night.
Thomas Pasatieri’s chamber operas are certainly no innovation, as they have obvious appeal to many small-budget companies. The libretto of Pasatieri’s “Before Breakfast,” a verismo melodrama by Frank Corsaro based on a Eugene O’Neill play, follows the early-morning rant of a woman caught in a tragic marriage going nowhere. Conceived originally for Beverly Sills and revised in 2006 for Lauren Flanigan, the single role calls for a soprano with some dramatic power and high-flying range, qualities that this production’s Charlotte, Caroline Worra, had in spades.
Fans of the Broadway musical will probably be more pleased with “The Filthy Habit,” a new comedy with a wordy, rhyming book by Matt Boresi and a jazz score by Peter Hilliard, complete with a snappy close-harmony trio of singers serving as Greek chorus. The vocal writing for Gil, the health-obsessed husband, often seemed more like speech than operatic singing, performed with comic ease by Ethan Watermeier, while the smoker wife’s more challenging part was given zing by soprano Jennifer Aylmer. The title role is given to a dancer, the smarmy Dustin Kimball, who incarnates the addiction the wife is trying to kick in the wake of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s smoking ban.
It is the sort of work that hardly needs an opera company, however small, to give it an audience, and the cute references to contemporary culture dotted throughout get a laugh now but will seem dated and in need of footnote explanation in 20 years. The chamber orchestra, conducted by company director Robert Wood, played with conviction in both styles of music, while the no-frills stagings directed by Alan Paul were more effective than revelatory.
Downey is a freelance writer.