Vores’ absurdist “Chrononhotonthologos” receives entertaining premiere at Guerilla Opera

November 4, 2017 at 1:05 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

Aliana de la Guardia and Brian Church in Andy Vores' "Chronon-hotonthologos" at Guerilla Opera. Photo: Kathy Wittman

Aliana de la Guardia and Brian Church in Andy Vores’ “Chronon-hotonthologos” at Guerilla Opera. Photo: Kathy Wittman

When composer Andy Vores was studying English in college, he came upon a play that piqued his interest. The title alone—Chrononhotonthologos—was enough to raise eyebrows. But Vores was drawn into the drama, which satirized 18th-century tragedies and politics. Beyond mere comedy, Henry Carey’s 1734 story captured a theme that has remained timeless: corrupt and out-of-touch government officials are often drawn into conflicts that can have devastating results. Carey’s play imitated life, but when viewing global history since his play was written it seems that the opposite is equally true.

That was the impression one came away with after watching Vores’ latest opera Chrononhotonthologos, which Guerilla Opera presented in a world premiere Friday night at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

The opera is as delightfully absurdist as its title suggests, and Vores retained much of Carey’s original story. Chrononhotonthologos is the oafish king of Queenrummania whose lust for war draws him into rather silly encounters. At one point in the story, after he suffers from insomnia, he declares war on sleep. Threatened by the Antipodeans, people from the other side of the world who walk on their hands, he goes to war and wipes them all out except for their king, whom he locks away in a prison. Queen Fadladinida, however, fantasizes about the Antipodean and visits his cell where she prays to Venus and Cupid to save her from her loveless marriage and virginity.

Chrononhotonthologos, meanwhile, has gained little wisdom and brutally murders a cook over an issue of pork. He fights with General Bombardinian and the two engage in combat. After Bombardinian murders the king, he turns his sword upon a doctor and, ultimately, himself. The Queen is then free to marry the Antipodean, but instead runs off with Chrononhotonthologos’ two courtiers. For her, love, like marriage, is fickle and fleeting.

Nick O’Leary’s production kept the story moving briskly in a ninety-minute stretch, and the singer-actors made full use of the stage, even standing in for props to humorous effect. Between scenes, a few of the singers engaged the audience with tricks. Britt Brown performed a moonwalk and Brian Church, while blindfolded, “solved” a Rubik’s cube, which, hilariously, remained jumbled.

As is often the case with Guerilla Opera productions, the sets were simple and effective. Bedsheets hanging from racks provided backdrops and canvasses for shadow play. Crates and trunks lied in clusters about the stage. Costumes resembled carnival dress, with some characters donning colanders as helmets and muffin tins as breastplates.

But it was Vores’ score that fully captured the ridiculous, overblown story and its raucous humor. The composer has a knack for vocal writing, and Vores’ music is tuneful and sweeping when the drama suits. But he is not afraid of using dissonance, and the instruments are called upon to shriek and bellow agitated phrases. His lyrical and angular writing mix in unusual but intriguing ways, and melodies seem to freeze on shimmering chords. Elsewhere Vores employs ostinatos, and one particular theme sounded like the motive from the pop song “Wild Thing.” With these varied elements, the music has the power to linger in memory.

The singing was consistently excellent. Boston favorite Jonas Budris sang with smooth voice as the Poet and King Chrononhotonthologos. His most affecting moment came at opera’s end, where Vores interpolates the drama with settings of Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach. Budris’ singing there was pristine and hauntingly beautiful.

As Queen Fadladinida, Aliana de la Guardia found a ringing power and precision, her voice sounding brilliantly in the part’s many high notes. She had an excellent partner in Britt Brown, who sang warmly and boldly as the queen’s companion, Tatlanthe.

Brian Church is a versatile singer and actor, and he brought simple, palpable humor to the roles of Bombardinian and Rigdum-Finnidos, one of the king’s courtiers. His singing was thoroughly clear and engaging. As Aldoborontiphoscophornio, Bryan Pollock delivered his phrases with a smooth and vibrant countertenor. Rounding out the cast were Rose Hegele, and Charlotte Jackson, and Julia Kornick, who sang with focus and grace in roles ranging from court ladies to soldiers to Venus and Cupid.

The small orchestra was set up behind the stage and in the house behind the audience. Amy Advocat (clarinets), Philipp A. Stäudlin (saxophones), Nicole Parks (violin/ harmonica), and Mike Williams (percussion), most of whom are Guerilla Opera regulars, played Vores’ evocative score with energy and conviction. Violinist Alex Norkey, cellist Brianna Tagliaferro, and saxophonist Zhiming Liu provided nimble antiphonal support.

Every year for the past decade, Guerilla Opera has brought fresh new works to the stage, and each has been vivid in its own way. But Chrononhotonthologos is perhaps the company’s best-sung and most entertaining work to date. Catch it while you can.

Chrononhotonthologos runs through Sunday at 132 Ipswich Street at the Boston Conservatory and Berklee. guerillaopera.org

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