or The Nude Goddess by Mark Adamo is opera buffa with a tremolo of serious drama. Commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera and Opera
Columbus, Lysistrata, which pits women against
men in a sexually driven war against war, is in its second co-production of three at New
York City Opera during a time when the debate is escalating over whether the United States
should continue its involvement in the civil war raging within Iraq.
When Adamos flowing music, framed by complicated rhythms and
bursts of exotic percussion, began under the baton of George Manahan, the expectation was
to see the airborne trio of furies who invoke the story of Lysistrata. Loosely based on Aristophanes
play , Adamos clever libretto follows some of the comic touches that Aristophanes
used, such as the provincial dialect spoken by the women and men of Sparta which make them
sound like Loony Tunes character Elmer Fudd. Adamos Spartans say words like Greece as Gweeze.
Director Michael Kahn employs an agile and spirited cast that includes
originating singers from the Houston production: soprano Emily Pulley as Lysistrata,
contralto Myrna Paris as Kleonike, tenor Chad Shelton as Nico, mezzo-soprano Victoria
Livengood as Lampito. The original set by Derek McLane and used for the New York City
projection features a revolving structure that serves on one side as Lysistratas
bedroom and on the other as the Acropolis, the
storehouse of money and weapons in which the women of Athens and Sparta barricade
themselves. The colorful costumes by Murrell Horton predominately emphasize the sex of the
wearer. Once the lower-ranking soldiers hear that their wives and lovers have declared a
moratorium on sex until their war is ended, their tunics rise with tumescent reaction.
Have Kahn, Adamo and Horton gone too graphic? Consider that Aristophanes used leather
penises as part of the soldiers costumes.
The womens rebellion is led by General Nicos lover who is
first known as Lysia until later she is crowned by the women as Lysistrata, she who
brings peace. Lysia has a difficult time convincing the women because initially they
are not willing to give up sex with their men. One of the most memorable arias is sung by
Myrrhine who tells Lysia Peace, yes, but what about love? It is a sultry and
jazzy aria that mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera puts across with sexy longing. Except for
Sappho (mezzo-soprano Jennifer Roderer) who is getting a lot of poetry
written, the women, including Lysia, have a hard time not sneaking off to be their
Act II, although still offering comic lines, is much more serious. The
warring generals Nico, representing Athens, and Leonidas (baritone Stephen Kechulius),
representing Sparta, are forced to meet because their soldiers are consumed with the
consequences of the womens sexual sanctions. Chad Shelton as Nico delivers a moving
aria about how a soldiers heart and hands are not his own in war.
Whats fascinating about this satisfying evening of theater is
that Adamo not only puts the audience at ease with his high and low comic techniques that
run the gamut from cliches like slam, bam, thank you, mam and breaking
through the invisible fourth wall when one of the characters invites the audience to join
in a much repeated refrain, but also that the playwright-composer puts us in frantic touch
with a current-day, emotionally fraught subjectthe war in Iraq and its implications
for loved ones who are serving our country as soldiers.
New York, March 21, 2006
- Karren L. Alenier