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New Musto Opera a Striking Success

Later the Same Evening, Maryland Opera Studio, 2007, photo by Cory Weaver
The outcome of the landmark collaboration between the National Gallery of Art, the Clarice Smith Center, and the University of Maryland School of Music in the commission of an opera from the John Musto-Mark Campbell composer-librettist team is remarkable. Later the Same Evening is inspired by five paintings of Edward Hopper: Room in New York (1932), Hotel Window (1955), Hotel Room (1931), Two on the Aisle (1927), and Automat (1927). The set features the five paintings in a row with each painting highlighted with increased lighting for its respective scene. Each scene begins with singers in the exact dress and pose as the painting, which allowed for the painting to come to life onstage. The absence of complex recreations of the paintings’ sets onstage was a true virtue – thanks to Director Leon Major and Scenic Director Erhard Rom – in that the medium-sized projections of individual paintings for their respective scenes high on the walls allowed Hopper's works to be the cost-effective set. Always visible, the paintings were integral to the production.

Librettist Mark Campbell interpreted the five paintings as set in an early New York City evening in 1932. The thread that first connects the diverse characters of each painting is that they are all questioning their realities and facing loneliness or discord. The brilliance of the production is in how the five stories are gradually connected. The wife from the first painting must go alone to a show because her distant husband rejects her and goes instead to the bar called Clancy’s. She later finds herself in the same theater with the lady from the second painting and her beau she had been awaiting, in addition to the soon-to-be-dumped and stood-up boyfriend of the failed ballerina about to return to Indiana from the Hudson Hotel for Young Women in painting three, and the posh couple from painting four. The usher from the theater ends up being the young lady in painting five who somewhat resembles Degas’s Absinthe Drinker, though has finished her harmless “cup-a-joe” in the Automat café. These connections were reinforced musically by having most of the characters sing together the fugal “rain pouring fast from the sky” as a chorus after meeting on the rainy street after the show let out.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, Maryland Opera Studio (Washington Post, November 17)

T. L. Ponick, 'Evening' of Paintings (Washington Times, November 17)
Musto’s score was most expansive at this point and very emotional, since at that point everyone had come to the realization that they were not alone. Musto did not have as much text to set to music in this production compared to the comedy Volpone and thus was seemingly better able to let the music outweigh and uplift the text; the experience of the 85-minute production without intermission was complete and unrushed.

Sheldon Segal (tenor Eric Sampson) from painting four in the theater and Ruth Baldwin (soprano Onyu Park) from painting three had enough resonance and diction to clearly fill a large hall. The rest of the cast more or less fell into the trap of undersinging due to performing in a smaller hall for chamber opera at the Clarice Smith Center. Those singers needed to match and lead the superb National Gallery Orchestra under conductor Glen Cortese. The orchestra's playing during the show-within-a-show in painting four (when the orchestra accompanied the audience's facial expressions while facing the actual audience) was very enjoyable. The work peacefully ends with all characters facing their respective paintings and backs to audience, in a way re-entering their canvases.

Later the Same Evening will be performed again, in a special free concert at the National Gallery of Art (December 2, 6:30 pm).

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