27: Opera Nederland, 2015

The Americans are the successors of the Italians when it comes to opera. Their composers translate famous books, movies and characters into entertaining operas, and in that are not afraid of amusement and sentiment. The opera ’27’ by the American composer Ricky Ian Gordon had its world premiere on June 14, 2014 at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and examines the life of Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) in the Rue de Fleurus 27 in the 6th arrondissement of Paris . Gertrude Stein was – whatever way you look at it – a contradictory figure. A Jewish and lesbian writer, that was initially admired and celibrated as a self-proclaimed genius, but alienated many by her propaganda for the Vichy regime. She was friends with, among others, the anti-Semitic Vichy officer Bernard Faÿ, translated hateful speeches by Philippe Pétain and was blind to the deportation of Jews around her. As egocentric and extrovert figure Stein is thus an excellent character for an opera. ’27’ examines Stein’s relationship with her live partner Alice, the controversies surrounding Stein as American expatriate and her relations with the Vichy. The CD release of the recording of the world premiere reveals ’27’ as a chamber opera comparable to Gordon’s big, powerful and moving opera ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ (2007). The five-act ’27’ describes in only one and a half hour the legendary Saturday soirées by Stein at Rue de Fleurus 27, with a cast of only five singers. In those ninety minutes the story and characters come to life and give a good impression of who Gertrude Stein was, how she felt and lived. Gordon wrote the role of Stein with the dramatic mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe in mind and Blythe pinned the arrogant Stein brilliantly as a “larger-than-life” authority. Her final aria “I’ve been called many things” is gripping. Elizabeth Futral sings a fragile Alice. Her radiant soprano provides an excellent complement to the part of Stein and sounds wonderful in addition to the heavy sound of Blythe. The other three singers are from The Gerdine Young Artist Program and each of them sings four or five aria’s. Bass-baritone Daniel Brevik, baritone Tobias Greenhalgh and tenor Theo Lebow interpret roles as Gertrude’s brother Leo, painters Matisse and Picasso, writers Fitzgerald and Hemingway and photographer Man Ray. Witty is their tercet in drag in the first act, as painter Marie Laurencin, model Fernande and Madame Matisse. Conductor Michael Christie and members of the St. Louis Symphony give a lush reading of Gordon’s mix of styles. They support the gliding vocals and the words of the keen libretto by Royce Vavrek, which remain clearly intelligible in the translucent and fusing music. ’27’ is an opera that will find her way into the repertoire without a doubt!

Read the original review (in Dutch) here.

Opera Nederland, April 2015