Philadelphia: Putting On Great Opera Can Be Murder

By James Sohre for Opera Today

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Little Victor Farrell (tenor Jason Ferrante), Doris the Wire Walker (mezzo-soprano Melissa Parks), Aveline Mortimer the Wide-Eyed Warbler (soprano Deanna Breiwick), and Uncle (bass Matt Boehler) in Elizabeth Cree at Opera Philadelphia. Photo: Courtesy of Opera Philadelphia

The duo’s first hit, Silent Night, was so highly acclaimed that it could have proven a hard act to follow. So, the pair decided not to try for another large piece of sweeping scope and profound emotional calculation, and opted instead to create a 90-minute chamber piece in which wickedly complex characters and lurid plot twists threaten to out-Sweeney Sweeney Todd.

No spoiler alert needed, the opus starts with the hanging of Elizabeth as punishment for the murder of her husband John. Set in London, 1887-1881, the tale subsequently unfolds in twenty-nine cogent scenes that go back and forth in time, narrating the murder mystery in mosaic fashion, interweaving titillating red herrings, finally revealing the truth in a shocking confession. Even better than Mr. Campbell’s often witty, always riveting text, Mr. Puts’ eclectic score falls tunefully on the ear one moment, and is eerily stomach-churning the next. Borrowing from several styles and influences, the talented composer re-invents them with excellent effect to present his own unique voice.

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