I am convinced that opera is the perfect de-stressor. Never mind the beautiful scores and soaring voices, the plot lines themselves are enough to make you forget about your problems. How could any of your petty work dramas compare to the agony that is La Traviata? Or Madame Butterfly? Sure, your family might be driving you insane for some reason or another, but at least you aren’t watching your boyfriend die in front of you, causing you to rashly commit suicide by jumping from a cliff. The over the top drama and constant emotion may be what people point to when they make fun off opera, but it’s my favorite goddamn part. So I was (understandably, I think) hesitantly excited to see the American Opera Initiative: Three Twenty Minute Operas.
It’s not that I thought any of the performances were going to be bad, I trust the Washington National Opera to put on good work. It was that I knew the time limit meant there were probably not going to be any five minute long death arias. Twenty minutes is not a lot of time in general, but it’s nothing for an opera. I was worried the intricate plot lines and amped emotions would fall by the wayside. Thankfully, I was completely wrong.
Although I generally gravitate towards sad opera’s because I hate happiness, it was actually the comedic operas that made the most impression on me. Twenty Minutes Or Less had a very basic concept, it focused on employees at a chain pizza place who are trying to deliver a pie to the CEO of the company in 20 minutes or less, but the seriousness of the performances combined with the absurdity of the plot made it incredibly fun to watch. Alexandra was the emotional core of the night and centered around a woman dealing with the loss of her deceased husband while returning a book he stole from the library and suddenly discovering a series of notes written in the surrounding books by two lovers from the past. It was very moving and Leah Hawkins, who played Alexandra, sang beautifully.
However, the best opera of the night was the last one, Service Provider, which is about a couple celebrating their third anniversary who are torn apart by technology and the discovery that one of them is having an affair. Watching people sing their text messages out loud is way more enjoyable than you would think, and Rexford Tester, who played the waiter Dallas, was delightful, even if his voice was overpowered by the orchestra towards the end.
From the beginning of the first opera to the very last note, it was a blast. All of the stories managed to be complicated and intriguing despite the time limit and the simple costumes combined with the limited props meant there were no distractions from the action or the great music. Seriously, the orchestra killed it. They drove the frantic pace of the first opera, but it was also incredibly fun to hear them recreate various ringtones and text message beeps during the last performance.
Sure, it didn’t make me cry like most of my favorite operas, but American Opera Initiative: Three Twenty Minute Operas was still a well crafted roller coaster ride of emotions, which was exactly what I wanted.