You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Phantom Palace

New Haven's annual Intl. Festival of Arts & Ideas has taken a bold step in commissioning its first opera. And even if the end result, "Phantom Palace," is less than compelling, festival director Mary Miller is to be applauded for exposing fest audiences to the contemporary music of Mexican-born, English-trained composer Hilda Paredes and the bold vocal explorations of Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart.

The Benefactor - Andreas Fischer Marcia Lieberman - Angelika Luz Ambassador Lieberman - Daniel Golger

New Haven’s annual Intl. Festival of Arts & Ideas has taken a bold artistic step in commissioning its first opera for its eighth edition, doing so in conjunction with Stuttgart’s Musik de Jahrhunderte and London’s English National Opera. And even if the end result, “Phantom Palace,” is less than compelling, festival director Mary Miller is to be applauded for exposing fest audiences to the contemporary music of Mexican-born, English-trained composer Hilda Paredes and the bold vocal explorations of Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart. The opera is definitely for adventurous rather than traditionalist operagoers, however.

It’s also much stronger musically than dramatically, its multilingual libretto by Adriana Diaz Enciso, based on an Isabel Allende novella, coming across as banal and nondimensional. Indeed, despite English supertitles and some of the libretto being in English, it’s almost impossible to figure out what the opera is supposed to be about without reading the synopsis in the program. Without it, “Phantom Palace” seems to be no more than the cliche of a South American dictator lusting after the beautiful wife of a prissy ambassador from an English-speaking country: part “Tosca,” part “Evita.”

Even the supertitles don’t help much because they are written in such odd English. When the libretto is spoken and/or sung in English, it’s no more comprehensible than when it’s in German or Spanish.

What “Phantom Palace” attempts to project is nothing less than “a compelling statement on the tragic social and political history of South America in the 20th century.” But neither the libretto nor the staging of Carlos Wagner or the clunky acting of most of the international cast achieves this end. And because the opera and its production are so static, with so little dramatic intensity or tempo, its 90 minutes seem much longer. The entire enterprise is far more Germanic than South American.

London-based Parades, who trained with, among others, British composers Peter Maxwell Davies and Richard Rodney Bennett, has written a score that is rich in atmosphere but tends to be more of an accompaniment to the action than its driving force. All of the musicians involved — singers and instrumentalists are under the baton of Peter Hirsch — are to be applauded for negotiating with such aplomb what is by no means an easy score.

The opera opens with taped voices, suggestive of the “invisible” indigenous people in South America, whispering around the theater. They are joined by tremolo strings, the onstage chamber orchestra of about 18 string, wind and percussion players often suggesting jungle sounds and bird calls. The vocal elements range from speech to sprechstimme to high coloratura, ululations, tongue trillings, yowlings and other non-traditional vocalizing. The use of a counter-tenor as the ambassador adds to the unusual aural tapestry.

The opening scene reveals the benefactor/dictator inaugurating his grand summer palace. The festivities include a tango that devolves into a drunken orgy. Shortly thereafter, the ambassador’s wife is abducted from her bedroom and raped by the dictator. At one point he smears her nightgown with pulp from a tropical fruit and then stomps on other fruit rolled onto the stage by the ensemble. This has no dramatic impact; it’s just messy.

Time goes by and the abducted wife “disappears” just as the local peasants have. (They appear briefly at one point to present a shadow-play about death and to beg unsuccessfully.) Years later, a group of arts workers at their computers decide they would like to find the summer palace and use it as a cultural center. The palace can’t be found; a tremulous projected image of it appears and then disappears as the opera ends.

The work will be heard again in Stuttgart on June 27-28 and, presumably, eventually in London. Of interest musically to followers of the contemporary operatic scene, its failures are more in its libretto and, here, the acting and directing.

Phantom Palace

University Theater, New Haven, Conn.; 660 seats; $28 top

Production: A 2003 Intl. Festival of Arts & Ideas presentation of the world premiere of a chamber opera in one act with music by Hilda Paredes and libretto by Adriana Diaz Enciso, based on a novella by Isabel Allende. Directed by Carlos Wagner. Conductor, Peter Hirsch.

Creative: Set and costumes, Mauricio Elorriaga; lighting, Paul Whitaker; shadow theater, Adelheid Kreisz; production manager, Gotz Dihlmann. Co-commissioned by Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart, Intl. Festival of Arts & Ideas New Haven and English National Opera London. Festival director, Mary Miller. Opened June 12, 2003. Reviewed June 15. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: The Benefactor - Andreas Fischer Marcia Lieberman - Angelika Luz Ambassador Lieberman - Daniel GolgerWith: Julie Mende, Stephanie Field, Barbara Decker, Bernhard Gartner, Martin Nagy, Guillermo Anzorena, Angie Irrizariz, Phyllis Johnson, Adam Richman, Carlos Santiago, Jasmyn Santiago, Nick Tucci and members of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.

More Legit

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

  • Daniel Radcliffe

    Listen: How Broadway Made Daniel Radcliffe a Better Actor

    Acting onstage has been a regular part of Daniel Radcliffe’s career for more than a decade — and the “Harry Potter” star says there’s a good reason for that: It’s made him better. “It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe said on the [...]

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • 'Network' Review: Bryan Cranston Stars on

    Broadway Review: 'Network' With Bryan Cranston

    The 1976 film “Network” won four Academy Awards, including best original screenplay for writer Paddy Chayefsky, for its blistering portrayal of an American society fueled by greed and bloated on corruption. A haggard Peter Finch took the best actor trophy for his harrowing performance as Howard Beale, a TV newsman who is so disgusted by [...]

  • Faye DunawayVanity Fair Oscar Party, Arrivals,

    Faye Dunaway to Play Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

    Faye Dunaway will return to Broadway to play another acting diva. The Oscar-winner is set to portray Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman play that charts the movie legend’s career over the course of a winding monologue. Dunaway last appeared on Broadway in 1982’s “The Curse of the Aching Heart.” In the 1990s, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content