Fresh Squeezed Opera 2023 Review: The Artwork of the Future
A Refreshing Neo-Classical Opera with a Stellar Cast of SingersBy Jennifer Pyron
(Photo Credit: Whitney George
“The Artwork of the Future,” by composer Eric Moe and librettist Rob Handel, debuted its world premiere in a production by Fresh Squeezed Opera at HERE Performing Arts Center on May 13th 2023. This new opera featured singers, Emily Solo, Omar Najmi, Daniel Klein, and Brittany Fowler, with instrumental musicians including Veronica Riner (violin), Brian Thompson (viola), Jillian Flexner (electronics), Mike Coiro (percussion), David Štech (piano), Thea Mesirow (cello), Christian Brossard-Douglas (keyboards), and John Lowery (clarinets).
Structured around a comical science-fiction frame narrative wherein two artists discover the truth about their creative work and future, “The Artwork of the Future” shed light on the history of art alongside the potential death of humanity as we know it.
The opening scene began with a TEDtalk featuring stentorian bass-baritone Daniel Klein—as Dewey—playing his phone’s ringtone and describing how it was written 300 years ago by Bach. “He had 20 children, so no wonder he had to compose ring-tones on the side,” sang Klein. His voice was definitive and certain as he faced the audience, gazing around the performance hall. “Maybe you also have a day job, but you know it’s not your real work. Are you doing your real work?” he sang.
This questioning then inspired tenor Omar Najmi—as Spearmint Lodge—to ponder his own work as an artist. He portrayed an art-school graduate who was the TEDtalk’s sound technician, and an unrecognized creator of “spectator-triggered musical robot installations.” Omar Najmi’s voice was clear and his impeccable diction made it easy to understand his sometimes radicalized thinking regarding his character’s art. His costume was bright and colorful, matching his outgoing personality. I enjoyed costume designer Karen Boyer’s aesthetic choices throughout the opera. Spearmint Lodge became more of an internalized character as the opera progressed. He reminded listeners about the importance of valuing your own work and honoring your process, whatever that means to you.
Omar Najmi’s energy was contagious, especially when he met Emily Solo—as Najeen Teflo—at the cafe where she worked. One could feel the spark between them, and Emily Solo’s voice was magnetic. She radiated a warm tone that flourished in the performance hall, generating a sense of self-confidence that felt natural and transparent. I really enjoyed watching her express her voice while using her physicality to conjure more meaning from somewhere deep within. She exuded joy and an innocence that was not naiveté but more a fluid expression of curiosity. Emily Solo is a brilliant voice to be heard.
Entering a Futuristic Dreamland
As the opera continued and the narrative introduced Brittany Fowler—as Amalia Habitué/Shirl—I felt there was a deeper story developing beneath the obvious. Her first character experimented with time travel. The characters of both Spearmint Lodge and Najeen Teflo divulged their stories, revealing what their art means to them and how they are determined to be remembered as prophetic. Brittany Fowler used her initial character, physicist Amalia Habitué, to ease into the opera with her voice. I could sense that she was only waiting to open up even more, and so this made me curious about where she would vocally decide to go next. She was emotionally reserved as Amalia Habitué, and this felt detached from who she naturally is as a performer. I wanted more.
When Spearmint Lodge and Najeen Teflo successfully traveled 300 years into the future and found themselves in the Guggenheim Museum, the opera arrived at a place where it felt like anything was possible. The visuals were intense and the audience was excited to enter into a futuristic dreamland of endless possibilities. There was a robot ushering people about and describing the exhibition’s artwork and its historical relevance. This was Spearmint Lodge’s dream exhibition, now happening 300 years into the future. At this point a sense of emptiness became evident, and it felt like something was missing. There was something to be learned in all of this…
Eric Moe’s overall composition for this opera did an excellent job weaving together this bold narrative. He created an otherworldly sense of eerie wonder with ease. It was sci-fi adjacent, but it was also a strategic consideration that he took as a composer to make this a well-thought out composition. There was a carefree flow that I enjoyed listening to and experiencing both through the singers and musicians. I felt that everyone involved really enjoyed working together and focused on having fun!
More is More in a Really Good Way
In the final scenes, Brittany Fowler absolutely blew me away when she became Shirl, who carried the sci-fi parable to its conclusion. Her voice and appearance in this role were exuberant and full of life. I especially enjoyed her costume and how she effortlessly personified the music through her presence. Shirl, a 24th century hedonist convinced there was no future for humanity, felt like Brittany Fowler’s dream role. She leaned into Shirl’s radical ideas by vocally and emotionally dramatizing what I imagine futuro-pathetique to be. I loved watching Fowler’s facial expressions and over-the-top whimsical nuances. When Shirl remembers how to turn off the robot that controls her, at the close of the opera, all hope is restored. “People of Earth! Heed my call! I have a message of hope!” she proclaimed. This was the moment that everyone came back to the reality at hand and had to make a choice. Do we continue living as we are now? Or do we do something different in order to change our own self-destructive ways?
“The Artwork of the Future” depicted the potential desolation of humanity and championed the lasting awareness of what art is and can be for future generations to come. Fresh Squeezed Opera has opened everyone’s eyes.