Pacific Opera Project 2017-18 – The Monkey’s Paw & The Medium: Double Bill Enchants & Sets Perfect Halloween Mood

(Credit: Pacific Opera Project)

On October 27, 2017, Pacific Opera Project presented the world premiere of Brooke DeRosa’s “The Monkey’s Paw” along with a revival of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Medium” at the Ebell Club in Los Angeles. Brooke based the libretto for her opera on W.W. Jacobs’ 1902 supernatural thriller of the same name. The mystic tale, sometimes read in high school classes, warns readers to be careful what they wish for because the result may literally come to haunt them.

Josh Shaw’s set, used for both operas, showed a modest living room with leaf-strewn wallpaper. For “The Monkey’s Paw,” it contained the turn-of-the-20th-century furniture of a country household. Maggie Green set the time more exactly with her 1890s costumes.

The Monkey’s Paw

A guest, a Sergeant-Major who has served in India, arrives and tells of his magic monkey’s paw and the evil it has brought on the people who wished on it. Before leaving, he throws the paw in the fireplace. When he is gone the father takes the paw out of the fireplace and wishes for enough money to pay off the mortgage on their house. Nothing happens.

They go up to bed and come down to breakfast the next morning. Nothing happens and Herbert, the son, goes to work. Shortly after that a carriage driver arrives to tell the parents that Herbert has been killed. The driver says his company will help with burial expenses and gives the parents the exact amount of money the father had wished for. The mother wants her son back. Her husband, however, prevents her from seeing the horror of Herbert’s mangled body come to life with the third wish. It is a good story for Halloween Week.

DeRosa’s song-like piano score accompanies the voices to good advantage and never overpowers them. She makes a fine impression with her first opera. I am told that she may add a string quartet to the accompaniment or orchestrate the score for a chamber ensemble. I’d like to see this opera again in any form available. Pianist and conductor Douglas Sumi played DeRosa’s piano score with great style and consummate virtuosity.

Phil Meyer and Marina Harris created credible characters as caring but greedy parents while William Grundler was a warm-voiced dutiful son.  As the Sergeant-Major, Ben Lowe proved to have the most resonant and shining male voice of the evening as he described the workings of “The Monkey’s Paw.” David Samuel Childs was a credible Carriage Driver.

The Medium

After intermission POP gave us a fabulously well sung rendition of “The Medium,” an opera that, together with the same composer’s “The Telephone,” ran for 212 performances on Broadway in 1947. Douglas Sumi also accompanied this opera with his excellent piano playing. His tempi were propulsive and buoyant. Having heard this score played by an orchestra both live and on recordings, this performance brought to mind the aspects of vocal art that are better heard with piano.

Maria Dominique Lopez created an interesting character as Madame Flora. A con artist who cheats grieving parents out their money by offering them false chances to see and hear their dead children, she is also a drunk who batters her special needs son and threatens her daughter. Lopez, who sang with glorious low notes convinced the audience that she had all of the above traits, but was still a mother who tried to support her children.

As Monica, Chelsea Friedlander sang with beauty of tone over her entire range. Her “Monica’s Waltz” was a selection to be savored. I understand the performance was recorded and am happy to know we will be able to hear it again. Her Monica was a loving sister who tried to protect Toby from his drunken mother.

David Samuel Childs’ performance of the handicapped brother, Toby, was an acting tour-de-force. At the end, he fell out of the fake wall Madame Flora had concocted to fool patrons that ghosts actually appeared at her séances. Marina Harris, Phil Meyer and Ariel Pisturino were sorely bereaved parents who were willing to pay anything to see their children again. All the singing actors in these two operas created credible characters that added a great deal to the evening’s entertainment. This double bill was an enchanting show that put the audience into the mood for a scary but fun Halloween.

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