The bard is alive, well in Amram
By Daniel Webster
David Amram's opera, Twelfth Night, had its local premiere last night in the production by the Pennsylvania Opera Theater. The choice of a contemporary work - and its stylish production at the Trocadero - set something of a high-water mark for the company.
The opera premiered 13 years ago when, the composer was working a vein of music that lent itself well to Shakespearean things. The score fuses unabashedly lyrical means with tart instrumental colors. It proposes songs clothed in mock-antique fittings, and it turns out to be an opera with such conventional things as arias, love duets and big, act-ending ensembles.
It also has a couple of moments of sonorities so craftily realized that listeners take for granted what is in the air. In the second act, the Duke is singing while two other men sing wordless counterpoint. That creates an atmosphere of extraordinary richness which tends to magnify the impact of the sung words and the melodic line supporting them.
The viola song, at the end - a neo- Shakespearean pun - may be the most golden moment in the score. It worked its magic in this production turning the orchestral writing to gentleness and consonance as the work reaches its close.
The libretto - by Joe Papp - necessarily eludes a lot of Shakespearean detail and makes the first act a busy, diffuse theatrical idea. The second act is better focused, and in it Amram reveals his best music. The first act so determinedly establishes identities and so stresses the clowns that it all but pushes the romantic threads out of sight
James Goolsby has organized a flowing production on the single set. Clowns have baffled many directors and have partly baffled him. for they loom pretty large in this version. He begin, and ends With tableaux and works deftly in moving the elements of the play in and out.