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Charming, spooky works open Fort Worth Opera’s ‘Frontiers’ program

Posted 1:38am on Friday, May. 10, 2013

The Fort Worth Opera gave the musical public its first peek at “Frontiers” on Thursday. This is a new program that showcases unpublished works by 21st-century composers, who are invited to participate in workshop presentations of their operas-in-progress.

The program certainly got attention in the American musical community. More than 80 works were submitted for consideration, and eight were selected for the first Frontiers. Four of the eight were heard Thursday afternoon; the other four will be presented Friday afternoon.

Selections were made by a team of professionals who were not aware of the identities of the composers and librettists.

It’s not possible to take the full measure of the “Frontiers” entries, because they are limited to 20-minute excerpts, are unstaged, and are accompanied by pianists playing reductions from the orchestral scores. Still, it’s a big plus that the singers are professionals from the Fort Worth Opera’s 2013 roster.

Thursday’s four works were full of variety. The first one was a charmer titled From the Other Sky, with music and words by Chinese composer Wang Jie. (She was present, as were the other three composers of the afternoon.)

Hers is a kind of fairy tale about how the Chinese Zodiac came to be represented by 12 animals rather than 13. (The 13th, the lark, gives up her home in the sky to descend to earth to rescue plague-bound humankind.) Jie’s music falls pleasantly on the ear; soprano Jeni Houser’s often spectacular lark was one of the afternoon’s pleasures.

In stark contrast was Embedded, with music by Patrick Soluri and libretto by Deborah Brevoort. This one was inspired by one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous horror stories, The Cask of Amontillado, transferred to 21st-century New York with an injection of modern-day terrorism. There’s enough of Poe to send a few shivers down the spine, though the ending seemed not quite Poe-like. Soluri’s music is properly spooky, especially his depiction of the Mephistophelian terrorist, effectively sung by Anthony Reed. Kristen Lassiter and Corrie Donovan as two broadcast rivals also made strong impressions.

Airline Icarus, with music and libretto by two Canadians, Brian Current and Anton Piatigorsky (grandson of the celebrated cellist), seems to be taking place aboard a crashing jetliner, which makes the rather calm quartet sung Thursday seem strangely out of place. But this was only an excerpt; maybe a complete performance would clarify matters.

Also benefiting from a complete presentation would be Louis Karchin’s and Diane Osen’s Jane Eyre. It made a decent impression, but one wanted more.

The conductors on Thursday were Tyson Deaton and Stephen Dubberly; the pianists were Stephen Carey and Jody Schum.

Performances were in McDavid Studio, across Calhoun Street from the much larger Bass Hall. Friday’s performances will begin at 3 p.m. in McDavid.

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