famous brand music  Clark Suprynowicz

Chrysalis, Berkeley Opera, 4/26/06

from OPERA NEWS July 2006

Genetic engineering, instant cosmetic makeovers and the tension between money and love are all part of the meat of Chrysalis, a new opera by Clark Suprynowicz. The two-act, two-hour work, which received its world premiere at Berkeley Opera in late April, benefits from a libetto by John O'Keefe that is more involving dramatically and emotionally than, say, Peter Sellars's book for Doctor Atomic.

O'Keefe's plot revolves around Ellen Ermaine, an increasingly harried, visibly aging cosmetics-industry executive obsessed with marketing the Hathor line, a remarkably cheap instant makeover cr譥, to a chorus of corporate honchos. From the opening scene, she is followed and mirrored by Nelle, the other side of Ellen, an elegant, supremely confident blond who eventually takes total possession of her host.

Ellen's other shadow is her lover Timothy, who announces that he has divorced his wife in order to cement their relationship. Alas, Ellen's career ambitions and internal conflicts leave little room for love. In the middle of all this sits the psychiatrist, Doctor Zehn. In response to Ellen's fears that her other self is taking over, and that beauty is a far more powerful force than she had recognized, Zehn offers medication a little something to take the edge away without taking your edge away.

Suprynowicz, a jazz musician who performed and recorded with John Zorn, Bill Frissell, Art Lande, Max Roach and Tom Waits, has composed a taut, engaging score, whose compelling air of anguish and dreamlike mystery is occasionally punctuated by intentionally regressive strains of nineteenth-century romance. Only in the coda, after the chorus has intoned, There is nothing that we can't change, nothing that we can't arrange, does he falter, the final duet between Nelle and Ellen lingering too long after the audience has gotten all there is to get from the story.

Buffy Baggott triumphed as Ellen, spitting out words lower in the range of her strong, vibrant mezzo with ultimate clarity. Marnie Breckenridge's soaring soprano provided the perfect complement, as did her may I always be adored looks and bearing. Brazilian baritone Igor Vieira was a fine Timothy, his ebullience most amusing after his Hathor application sprouted women's breasts, and John Min৲o's intentionally placid bass proved ideal for Dr. Zehn.

Musical director Jonathan Khuner and the excellent San Francisco Chamber Orchestra played as if the opera's life depended upon them. Mark Streshinsky's skeletal set, as well as his direction of Ellen's decline and transformation, perfectly suited this opera, which deserves more productions.


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