Posted on Jul 26, 2014
4 out of 5
I actually like opera and go to the Lyric every year. I like the grand spectacle and “over the top” stories. So I was really looking forward to Colley’s and Varney’s latest Fringe show. How unique to bring opera to Fringe and Nathan Granner is a real opera performer. What a catch.
I liked the concept of bringing a Poe story to life, although I have never read Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”. I could imagine it being dark and dramatic.
The show was dark, literally, but the lighting was effective. The dancers were stylistic and really needed since the story part was so short. In fact the whole show with lots of dancing was only 35 minutes. The music although interesting and fitting, seemed a little repetitive by the end. Maybe that was because there wasn’t much light and shade to the story-mostly shade. Even when the party was going on, it was still dark and somewhat oppressive.
One thing I have learned about opera is we need super-titles to understand the words, even if the opera is in English. I could understand Granner, who seemed to talk more than sing, so he was easily understood even with the music going on all the time, and I could understand his singing. (I found out later there was a lyric sheet available, but I wouldn’t have been able to read it during the show anyway)
On the other hand, I was able to understand the maid, sung by Devon Barnes, the only other singer, in the beginning. I figured out she was depressed because she lost her whole family to the Red Death. I understood the scene with the knife since it was acted out, but when Barnes took over again I lost the story until the end, when the Uninvited Guest, played by Coleman Crenshaw, came to the party. Barnes sounded beautiful, but I couldn’t understand many of the words. I never understood why she changed from being a maid to a beautifully dressed woman. I don’t think it was her fault since there is a reason opera usually has titles, even with the best performers in the world. Unless you are really familiar with the story and the songs, you have trouble following. Songs in opera are not usually cute little ditties; they are story-telling to dramatic music and sung in that very operatic style of singing, which often makes it hard for us to understand.
I asked my friends to fill me in on the story afterwards and they didn’t understand it any better than I did. After Fringe I plan to read Poe’s story to get the most out of this production. Still, Colley and Varney continue to push the edge and bring Kansas City a unique and interesting Fringe experience.