Guerilla Opera marks 10th anniversary with retrospective gala

June 1, 2017 at 12:26 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

Soprano Aliana de la Guardia leads a toast at the 10th anniversary gala of Guerilla Opera Wednesday night.

Soprano Aliana de la Guardia leads a toast at Guerilla Opera’s 10th anniversary gala Wednesday night.

Over the past decade, Guerilla Opera has brought a host of wildly inventive operas into the world. Each has been memorable, featuring gritty story lines, imaginative staging, and mesmerizing music. 

Wednesday night at the Oberon Theater in Cambridge, between cast interviews and patrons’ trips to the free buffet and cash bar, members of this celebrated troupe marked its 10th anniversary with a look back at a few of the operas performed by the company. Parts of Andy Vores’ Chrononhotonthologos, which will be presented in full this fall, were heard for the first time.

The story behind this tongue twister of a title comes from a play by Henry Carey, itself a parody of eighteenth-century revenge tragedies. Vores, who was on hand Wednesday night to supply a few remarks, called the story line “overblown and silly.”

The prologue and first scene, heard Wednesday night, didn’t provide enough material for listeners to get drawn into the story, but it was enough to get drawn into the music. Vores’ score is consistently attractive. An opening chorus intones bristly chords, and the instrumental ensemble, complete with sopranino saxophone and bass harmonica, supply a series of growls and shrieks, setting the stage for an eerie and combustible tale.

The singing here as well as in the other scenes performed throughout the evening was consistently excellent. Matthew DiBattista, with his smooth-toned tenor, sang brightly as the king in Vores’ work.

Baritone Brian Church possesses a clear voice and he sang fully in the evening’s many roles. In a scene from Curtis Hughes’ Say it Ain’t So, Joe!, an operatic parody of the 2008 Vice Presidential debate, he captured the down-home and aptly awkward charm of Joe “the Plummer” Wurzelbacher. Aliana de la Guardia, with her ripe, dexterous soprano, sang the role of Sarah Palin with nimble grace and energy, hitting the music’s wide leaps with precision.

Guerilla Opera’s first production was Rudolf Rojahn’s Heart of a Dog, and in the first two scenes from the opera Church and de la Guardia traded lines of roiling power as the Doctor and the Housekeeper respectively. In the lullaby scene from Hannah Lash’s Beowulf, the two captured effectively the warm feelings between mother and son.

The other singers had brief roles but performed them resplendently. Patrick Massey sang with rosy tone as the Assistant in Heart of a Dog.

But the most musical event of the evening belonged to countertenor Douglas Dodson. As the plucked chicken Gallo from Ken Ueno’s opera of the same name, Dodson sang an aria that contemplated the existence of God and the sorrow of being locked in an eternal present. Ueno’s music in this scene, scored for cello and bass clarinet, unfolded in a thin web of harmonies. Dodson’s line had the smooth glow of an aria by Monteverdi, his tone pristine and shimmering.

The chamber ensemble, made up of Nicole Parks (violin), Sam Kelder (viola), Stephen Marotto (cello), Rane Moore (clarinets), Philipp Staudlin (saxophones), and Mike Williams (percussion), fully captured the ironies and otherworldly effects created in the selected scenes from each opera.

Before most of the performances kicked off Wednesday night, Aliana de la Guardia offered to toast to the fruitful collaborations between composers, librettists, directors, and performers that has defined the Guerilla Opera productions over that past ten years. One hopes that this imaginative company will have many more years of activity.

Guerilla Opera will present Andy Vores’ Chronohotonthologos this September at the Zack Box Theater. guerillaopera.com

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