Saturday, February 28, 2015

Therese Raquin

Use Your Indoor Voice.

  Tobias Picker is a very fine composer.  His orchestral writing can be quite beautiful and there is a great deal of it in his opera Therese Raquin which was recently mounted by the Chicago Opera Theater.  The libretto is skillful; the sets and costumes effective.  It should have made for a wonderful evening in the theater 
   Unfortunately the problem is Picker's vocal writing.   He has beautiful stretches of orchestral music with the voices pretty much screaming over it.   You wait for some moment where the text is not set to jagged vocal lines at the top of the singers range.  You are still waiting after two hours.   There is a section in the second act where Mr. Picker starts out with an orchestra interlude and you think there will be something lovely to follow but when the voices enter right off the bat they start howling out intervals that illuminate neither the text nor the mood.   A lesser problem is the lack of truly transparent music in the opera.  It is beautiful but condensed in a limited range of orchestral color and rhythmic vitality. 
  The singers were able to scream through their parts pretty well, I guess.  The orchestra was adequate except for the under powered violins. 
  The most disappointing thing about the piece is that it had a lot going for it.  But what is opera about if not communication with the voice.  Perhaps Mr. Picker thinks the more difficult the intervals the more serious the composer.  I would advise him to reconsider this notion after a thorough study of Pelleas.  

Ralph Boyd