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REVIEW: 'TROUBLEfuturesongs' with Leonard Bernstein's 'Trouble in Tahiti' by Underworld Productions Opera

by Jon Sobel   May 21, 2014 03:17 AM EDT

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Composer Thomas Deneuville was raised in Tahiti, so it's fitting that his operatic cycle Outerborough Songs should receive its stage premiere on a bill with Leonard Bernstein's 1951 suburban-angst opera Trouble in Tahiti.

Outerborough Songs is Deneuville's striking setting of three poems by D. Nurkse centering on lives in New York City's outer boroughs, particularly Brooklyn. At the last of three performances at Symphony Space, soprano Gian-Carla Tisera--accompanied only by Marco Marino on electric guitar--called on all her substantial vocal power and clarity, and equal amounts of glamour and grit, to truly live the music and the words. Nurkse's rocky lines are charged with thinly electric emotion and flecked with words that carom from "Canarsie" and "septic tanks" to "underwater mountains." Tisera embodied all, deliciously waxing and waning through three poems and the characters who speak them. The musical motifs, derived from rock, flamenco and heavy metal, melded surprisingly well with Tisera's expressive soprano. Altogether it was a small bright gem of a performance.

The evening'g other table-setter, also a mere 10 minutes long, was a more traditionally operatic if highly abbreviated setting of the savage myth of Tereus, Procne and Philomela from Ovid's Metamorphoses. "Had I yet my voice…" cries Philomel, her bloodstained cloak betraying the double attack she has suffered at the hands of her rapacious brother-in-law, the Thracian king Tereus. Composer Justine F. Chen and librettist Ken Gass give stunning voice to the voiceless victim, raped and with her tongue severed so she can't tell what happened to anyone, especially Procne, her sister and Tereus's wife.

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