Review: Pictures at an Exhibition – John Musto’s Opera “Later the Same Evening” Brings Edward Hopper’s Art to Life – Glimmerglass Festival, August 13, 2011

The 2011 Glimmerglass Opera festival presented a double bill of 21st century one act operas, designed to illuminate the lives or art of early 20th century artists. The first half of the double bill was a 75 minute opera entitled “Later the Same Evening”.

[Below: Sheldon Segal (Neal Ferreira) and Rose Segal (Andrea Carroll); edited image, based on a William Brown photograph, courtesy of Glimmerglass Opera.]

A collaborative team of Composer John Musto, Librettist Mark Campbell, and Stage Director Leon Major conceived an opera which imagined what was happening in the lives of 11 people whose anonymous images appear in Edward Hopper paintings. They created a situation in which their lives interacted (sitting together in a theater watching a play.)

The entire cast consisted of members of the Glimmerglass Young Artists, with the exception of Patricia Schuman (who had lead roles in both of the operas of the double bill) as the dowager Estelle Oglethorpe and Jake Gardner, who plays her might-be new beau, Ronaldo Cabral.

The opera’s scenes sketch moments in the lives of the subjects of Hopper’s painting later in the day within hours of the moment that Hopper’s painting “recorded”. The collaborative team chose five paintings which inspired them to create backstories on each character that appears in the paintings.

[Below: Gus O’Neill (Kyle Albertson) ignores the entreaties of Elaine O’Neill (Andrea Arias Martin) that he get dressed for the theater performance that evening for which they have tickets, while a Edward Hopper painting that suggests their conversation is seen in the background; edited image, based on a Julieta Cervantes photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Opera.]

With backstories in place, they developed a central point where at least one of the characters from each picture could be together – a use of the idea (although for less disastrous circumstances) of Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” in which a calamitous event takes place, and the past lives of persons killed by a rope bridge’s collapse are told.

Musto sets Campbell’s absorbing libretto to an often melodic musical setting, sometimes incorporating a rhythmic jazz sound, sometimes reminiscent of Broadway musicals, occasionally reminding me of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”. There is often a distinct rhythmic pattern onto which each character’s speech appears to be grafted, giving the sense of a conversational style in some pleasant regional dialect.

The interlocking stories give the opportunity for some brilliant performances. Glimmerglass Young Artist Lauren Snouffer handled the role of Ruth Baldwin persuasively, in a role whose vocal requirements often made use of Snouffer’s voice of power.

[Below: Ruth Baldwin (Lauren Snouffer); edited image, based on a Julieta Cervantes photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Opera.]

Snouffer’s Ruth joined the Elaine O’Neill of Andrea Arias Martin and the Estelle Oglethorpe of Patricia Schuman in a trio, that proved to be one of the opera’s  most effective ensemble pieces.

[Below: Estelle Oglethorpe (Patricia Schuman), Elaine O’Neill (Andrea Arias Martin) and Thelma Yablonski (Carin Gilfry) each waits for the person who will share their ticket; edited image, based on a Julieta Cervantes photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Opera.]

The collection of the opera’s characters, details of whose recent lives we have come to know, in a theater in which they occupy two short rows of seats, proved a most interesting scene. Jimmy O’Keefe, a visitor from the Southern city of Lynchburg, an enthusiast about Broadway attending his first show in person, was sung effectively by Andrew Stenson.

[Below: Jimmy O’Keefe (Andrew Stenson, standing) expresses his excitement about attending the theater, in the company of, from left, Ronaldo Cabral (Jake Gardner), Joe Harland (John Boehr), Estelle Oglethorpe (Patricia Shuman, face hidden), Rose Segal (Andrea Carroll) and Sheldon Segal (Neal Ferreira); edited image, based on a Julieta Cervantes photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Opera.]

If the reactions to the theatrical experience differed among the audience members, each of the characters experience a rain shower at the end, after which their lives, singly or as pairs, move off again in to different directions, probably never to intersect again.

Other cast members were Young Artists Kyle Albertson, as the philandering Gus O’Neill; Caren Gilfry as Thelma Yablonski, Lacy Sauter as Valentina Scarcella and John Boehr as Joe Harland.

David Angus conducted with vibrancy. The sets were by Erhard Rom and costumes by David O. Roberts.

[Below: From left, Ronaldo Cabral (Jake Gardner), Jimmy O’Keefe (Andrew Stenson), Estelle Oglethorpe (Patricia Schuman), Rose Segal (Andrea Carroll), Sheldon Segal (Neil Ferreira), and Elaine O’Neill (Andrea Arias Martin); edited image, based on a Julieta Cervantes photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Opera.]

Glimmerglass Opera has provided Musto, Campbell and Major with the opportunity to see their work realized in a stylish production. The music proved worthy and the opera conceptually inventive. It fit nicely with the second production in the double bill, Jenine Tesori’s “A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck”.