Opera Hound looks at 'Dust of the Road' and 'Bobok', Thompson Street Opera Co.
One of the things that I like most about the small “storefront” opera companies in Chicago is the chance to see operas that you have never seen before, and often have never heard of before. Such is the case with Thompson Street Opera’s double-billing of Dust of the Road and Bobok this weekend. I was impressed with the company’s production of Eric Lindsay’s Comic-Con-themed Cosmic Ray and the Amazing Chris back in September. It had a very playful vibe, wonderful performances, and modern-yet-classic love story.
I was fortunate enough to correspond about with two of TSO’s leaders, Executive and Artistic Director Claire DiVizio and Music Director Alex Enyart about the Dust/Bobok double-bill. It will be performed by Thompson Street Opera in four performances from April 12-14, 2018. See the TSO website for tickets and details. Both operas will be stage directed by Ms. DiVizio and conducted by Ms. Enyart.
Dust of the Road, composed by Marcus Maroney and based on a play by Chicago native Kenneth Sawyer Goodman (namesake of the Goodman Theater), is a morality play in the same vein of A Christmas Carol, but with a more ambiguous moral issue than Ebenezer Scrooge’s miserly ways. It opens with a Tramp entering the home of a woman, Prudence, who at first mistakes him for her husband. The audience feels the same confusion as Prudence as the Tramp tells her not to worry, and that he is waiting for her husband.
When the husband Peter arrives home, the story is slowly illuminated and Peter’s moral dilemma is made clear. The Tramp reveals himself to be the spirit of a well-known traitor who urges Peter not to make the same mistake he did. DiVizio and Enyart write that the music as “exquisite”. They write, “When the conversation between characters becomes overwhelmingly emotional, the composer Marcus Maroney sets rapid-fire overlapping text, creating a musical texture that shares an emotional truth about the characters. Our performance will be aided by supertitles, which will allow this texture to bloom without diminishing the comprehensibility of the story.”
The second half of the show is Bobok, composed by Russian-born composer Andrey Komanetsky and based on an 1873 short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It follows a frustrated writer named Ivan Ivanovich. Frustrated at his lack of success as a writer and at his wit’s end, he wanders into a graveyard. “The musical phrasing matches the writer’s style of seeming choppy, off-topic, and intoxicated. The music changes, however, when the writer realizes he has stumbled into a graveyard. The writer sits down to ‘think appropriate thoughts,’ and the ghosts awaken”, write DiVizio and Enyart.
The ghosts are members of different ranks and classes of society, represented visually by DiVizio’s production as the characters occupy different vertical space depending on their rank. The ghosts reveal their own personal connections as the drama begins to unwind. “The scene becomes a manifestation of entropy as a duet becomes a quartet, which becomes a quintet, and so on until all the voices overlap, and madness reigns. The ghosts question why they can still move and talk after death. The Court Councilor responds that the place in which they are living is the 'essence of life… concentrated,' and that life continues in this liminal state 'as if by inertia;' eventually everything is lost as the body decomposes, the mind goes and you are left muttering 'bobok', a nonsense phrase.”
As the ghosts resolve to live (sort of) while they can, the writer realizes that even in death chaos reigns. He descends into a final spiral of madness with no hope of peace even in death.
We are reminded, though, that for all of its dark themes, this opera is a comedy! “The complaining of the writer in the first scene ventures into the absurd, and the antics of the various ghosts, all from different stations in life, highlight the laughable extremes of human tendencies, amplified by their presence in a ludicrous scenario. From beginning to end, the music is sometimes darkly colored, but always playful and buoyant as well.”
Personally, I love these strange stories and I know that they will be skillfully performed by the cast and crew. While I still love going to a grand opera at Lyric, small (but not lesser) opera companies like Thompson Street Opera offer a rich experience where you can feel immersed in the production knowing that the pieces are being performed for the love of the art form.
I would like to thanks Claire DiVizio and Alex Enyart for taking time out of their busy production schedules to talk with me. I’m very much looking forward to seeing these productions.