Blue: Absorbing Drama
Reviewed by Ed Cloos
As seen August 10, 2019
This was the world premiere of a dramatic treatment of the contemporary issue of young black men killed by (usually) white police officers. It was absorbing to watch, and reading the libretto, after seeing the live performance, gave me goose bumps all over. To get right to the point: it didn't inspire compelling music.
The characters are all symbols: The Father, The Mother, The Son, The Reverend, The Girl Friends (of The Mother), and Policeman 1, 2 and 3. I don't know if they even had names, so it is hard to relate to them as actual people. Since the action primarily involves The Father and The Son, one might expect the music to feature them. But their interaction was mostly spoken.
The music, by Jeanine Tesori, who has written previous story-telling opera music for Glimmerglass, had no tunes that ran through our heads after the show, but some, especially that sung by The Mother (Brianna Hunter) were hauntingly beautiful, but also brief and not repeated.
The libretto, by Tazewell Thompson, is concise and moving, but it doesn't lend itself to song. Thompson has made important contributions to Glimmerglass as a director, and he didn't disappoint as a librettist. But the libretto wasn't a catalyst for memorable music. I can't imagine hearing this as a radio broadcast, as Glimmerglass productions commonly have become.
As the story opens, we see The Father drop his hoodie and ceremonially take on the uniform of a police officer, a “cop” to his son and an “officer of the law” to himself.
Even before The Son is born, The Girlfriends sing of the sorrow of bringing a black boy into the contemporary American world, let alone as the son of the cop. “Did no one else apply for the job (as father)? they sing. The Girlfriends were the only part of the cast of characters to express all thoughts in song.
The libretto has kind of a disconnect between the birth of the son and the interaction with his father as a teenager. Young Artist Aaron Crouch was compelling as the spirited, rebellious son, but he got only one notable chance to display his fine tenor. As his father repeats his oath on becoming a police officer, the son sings that he is really “the white man's lackey,” and similar sentiments.
Despite his rebellious nature and disrespect for authority, the only “crimes” we are told about is jumping a subway turnstyle and spraying protest statements on abandoned buildings. He's actually participated only in peaceful protests and dies in his final one.
After the death of his son—we don't know exactly how he happened to be killed—The Father seeks, or perhaps is offered without his request, solace from The Reverend who offers the word of the love of God, which doesn't help The Father much.
The “happy ending” is an epilogue in which the Father, Son and Mother are united around the kitchen table in which mutual love is expressed and The Son, college-bound to develop his art abilities, talks of “just one more peaceful protest” in which “nothing will happen.”
It works wonderfully as theater, but opera? Not so much.
Kenneth Kellogg, an accomplished bass, held our attention as The Father, but the role doesn't call for much singing. He's been involved with the production from the beginning, the press notes tell us, and will continue as it moves on to Washington National Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago in the coming season. It is a co-production with those prestigious companies. He's said in interviews that the story is deeply emotional, especially since he has a young son of his own. That son, Jayden, appears briefly in the show as “young child.”
Photographs copyright Karli Cadel and Conner Lange.
Jeanine Tesor, Composer
Tazewell Thompson, Librettist
John DeMain, Conductor
Tazewell Thompson, Director
Donald Eastman, Set Designer
Jessica Jahn, Costume Designer
Robert Wierzel, Lighting Designer
Eric Sean Fogel, Movement Coach
Samantha M. Wootten, Hair and Makeup Designer
Cassie Williams, Associate Hair and Makeup Designer
Kelley Rourke, Projected Titles