HT Music review: Opera ‘Intoxication, America’s Love Affair with Oil’ a good show

HeraldTimesOnline.com

Music review: Opera ‘Intoxication, America’s Love Affair with Oil’ a good show

By Peter JacobiH-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com
April 29, 2013

Chappell Kingsland, a doctoral candidate in composition at Indiana University, decided several years ago he’d write an opera, no less. He lined up his brother, Ben-Allen Kingsland, to write the libretto. And while creating, he decided there needed to be a producing outfit to perform it. With colleagues at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, he set about to do just that; they formed New Voices Opera, committed to present not only Kingsland’s opera but, in the projected future, other new works for the musical stage.

Lo and behold, on Friday evening (again on Saturday) in the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center, New Voices Opera offered the premiere of that Kingsland-Kingsland creation, titled “Intoxication: America’s Love Affair with Oil.”

Well also, lo and behold, what full houses of viewers saw and heard was really quite special. Who knows whether a new American opera, one with so strange a title and an unusual topic, will gain legs that carry it to further performances? Many new operas never make it beyond the premiere. But “Intoxication” deserves further attention. In fact, both the opera and its New Voices production deserve further attention. Most everything about this project merits praise and opportunity.

An argument might ensue on whether the opera is an opera or a musical, but that’s more for marketers to consider than for viewers to worry about. Like most operas and like few musicals, “Intoxication” is through-composed. There is continuous music, even when spoken dialogue is called for. There are full-bodied arias and ensembles, such as one hears in “Carmen,” “Traviata,” “Boheme,” and “Lohengrin.” So, why not call it an opera?And never mind that the orchestration blends in elements of rock and pop.We’ve had rock opera, so why not rock in a score rich, as well, in traditional classic modes?

Without doubt, “Intoxication” is Americana, like the musical “Ragtime,” like the opera “Ballad of Baby Doe.” The theme is American. The story and music ring American. But unlike most of its operatic predecessors, whether American-made or otherwise, this one has an agenda. The script, the words, the music that underlines those words speak and sing to our oil dependency. However, although the whole is dramatic, little came across as overwrought. The libretto is clever; the music, appropriate, varied and attractive.

As the opera opens, one sees two dancers, excellent ones: Ryan Galloway, dressed in skin-tight black body suit, portraying Oil; Shannon Kazan, in bright patriotic colors, portraying America. They’re alternately in choreographic embrace and struggle, as when they periodically return to bring emphasis to the issue of our dependency.

The opera chronologically unfolds the fuel’s dominating presence from 1859, when the first contact with oil was documented, to the gusher at Spindletop in Texas at the dawn of the 20th century, the Model T Ford craze, the devastating Dust Bowl decade, the World War II years, the post-war growth accelerating need, to Kuwait and the Deepwater Horizon spill. Along the way, three Presidents (Nixon, Ford, and Carter) preach independence; the fourth (Reagan) recommends a “don’t worry” approach. At opera’s end, two vocal quartets argue the path to the future. Is it to be hooked or freed?

The limited Waldron stage, featuring the base of an oil derrick, was ingeniously used. A corner was reserved for the 17-player orchestra (from strings, winds and percussion to piano/synthesizer and electric guitar). Carlos Andres Botero, conductor of Columbia’s premier youth orchestra, kept “Intoxication’s” orchestra and all things musical together, impressively so. MFA candidate Lee Cromwell was equally impressive directing a complex, always-moving, multi-scene production. Joe Musiel’s choreography was stunningly to the point. Costuming by Elizabeth Toy and Lauren Kingsland was professional, as were Katie Gruenhagen’s lighting and Steve Pollitt’s construction of scenery.

The 18 singers, a number of them familiar to those who attend campus musical events, switched from role to role and duty to duty with aplomb. Composer Kingsland gave particularly strong moments to the driving owner of Spindletop (Zachary Coates), to a car saleswoman (Kathryn Summersett), to a troubled farmhand during the dusty 1930s (Conor Lidell), and to the four presidents (Reuben Walker, Nixon; Charles Lyon Stewart, Ford; Coates, Carter; Brendon Marsh, Reagan).

A surprisingly good show. May it prosper.

Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2013

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