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Review: Opera Columbus and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra’s “The Flood”

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Review: Opera Columbus and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra’s “The Flood”
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Drama — across genres and media — is rife with water rising above characters’ heads, in both a literal and figurative sense. The most recent example of this is the engaging one-act original commission by Opera Columbus and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, The Flood, premiering this weekend.

If you grew up in Columbus, especially on the west side of town as this writer did, the 1913 Franklinton flood and the enormous mental hospital on West Broad Street from the late 1800s through the late 1980s (where the ODOT building now sits) loom large in your consciousness. The Flood, a collaboration between composer Korine Fujiwara and librettist/director Stephen Wadsworth, pivots on both points.

This very cinematic opera features a set divided into four apartments populated by people struggling with grief. 1913 (Hilltop) features William (Daniel Stein) and his wife Anna (Naomi Louisa O’Connell), attended to by their nurse Frances (Amanda Bottoms) after the eponymous flood gravely injured Anna. 1940 stars a German immigrant, Hans (Szymon Komasa) playing chess with his daughter “Schatzi” (Melissa Harvey).

1970 takes place in the Hilltop “asylum” where two doctors (Robert Kerr and Bil Hafner) attend to patient Alice (Lacey Jo Benter). 2014 focuses on a widower, Clement (Kevin Deas), and his daughter, Annie (Meröe Khalia Adeeb), researching the mental home and making sense of their shared loss of Clement’s wife and Annie’s mother. Krista Lively Stauffer appears as mother and nurse in multiple sections. The connections between these eras hold the puzzle-box joy of the plot so I’ll say no more.

Wadsworth’s direction grounds each segment in a hard-edged psychological reality that makes the fantastical elements glow like the central figure in a Goya painting. His libretto isn’t as strong, particularly tin-eared when it comes to contemporary colloquialisms on the ‘70 and ‘14 pieces.

Appropriate for a piece about the end of various worlds, Fujiwara’s score features surging drama and squalls of intriguing dissonance. Great vehicles for her music fill The Flood’s cast. Bentner’s tightly controlled patient choosing to define herself by her illness so no one else can box her in and Komasa’s tortured single father making himself more alone so the world can’t anymore are parallel studies in corrosive sadness. Their harmonizing in overlapping lines across decades supercharge already powerful solo voices. Adeeb also soars, her character’s heartbreaking hunger to unlock history hits the back row with an unforgettable voice and Deas plays her foil exquisitely.

At a tight hour-plus, this longish one-act feels a little too ambitious for its running time. The Flood accomplishes that rare feat of leaving me wanting more, wanting to see the connections between these people developed more and watch exposure to the outside world test them in a second act breaking out of their boxes. Even so, there’s magic aplenty. This is a riveting return to form for Opera Columbus and a celebratory exclamation point for ProMusica.

The Flood has performances at 7:30 p.m. February 8 and 9 and 3 p.m. February 10. The Sunday performance also features a talkback. For tickets and more info, please visit operacolumbus.org/events/the-flood.

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