The Maids

The Maids: highly theatrical exploration of power levels

In recent years, the Cincinnati Opera, the second-oldest opera company in the country, has refocused its programming to include newer work along with standard repertory. The company performs four operas in June and July in the cavernous 1878 Schloss of a Music Hall, with members of Paavo Jarvi’s Cincinnati Symphony in the pit, and artistic director Nicholas Muni has programmed 12 company premieres in the past seven seasons. […]

What is more, the acerbic, modernist, highly theatrical musical idiom of The Maids (1994) by the Swedish composer Peter Bengtson proved a bracing contrast to the safe neo-romanticism of the typical new American opera.

[…] Mr. Bengtson’s astringent music heightens the tension, the characterizations, and the confusion arising from this role-playing. His setting does not attempt to analyze or humanize the women, but explores the different levels of their obsession with power and their own lack of it. The three singers nailed the score’s vocal and dramatic challenges, brilliantly capturing the shifting moods of the horrific game.

As sister Claire, soprano Nancy Ann Lundy pretended to be Madame with furious, stratospheric coloratura; Allyson McHardy, as the more submissive Solange, used her velvety mezzo in a sweeter, yearning idiom. They sang when they were pretending, which was most of the time. When they were not role-playing, the girls spoke in a stark, uninflected style that exaggerated the power of song as the voice of the imagination. As Madame, their boss and the oblivious object of their ire, Stephanie Novacek had an appropriately more powerful mezzo. The transparent scoring of the 23-piece orchestra, led by Patrick Summers, skillfully built the dramatic momentum and supported the singers.

Nicholas Muni’s intelligent direction did not attempt to find reasons for these unreasonable acts, but left the audience to draw its own conclusions. Designer Dany Lyne’s elegant, futuristic bathroom setting referenced high style of an earlier period with its Mies-like windowed walls, squared-off fixtures, and Le Corbusier-style chaise. The room, a box floating within the larger stage, coolly lit by Thomas C. Hase, reduced the playing area to an intimate, almost claustrophobic space, and the red evening dress and matching gloves of Claire’s masquerade were like splashes of blood.

  • Heidi Waleson, Wall Street Journal

Shocking in its violence Skrämmande och fantasieggande

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