×

The Sound of a Voice

Although they do offer musical and visual pleasures, these two new chamber operas by Philip Glass and David Henry Hwang are not convincing examples of East-West fusion. Glass' score makes good use of non-Western instruments. But the score's talk-sung style and the supertitles serve to underline the lack of subtlety in Hwang's libretto.

With:
Woman - Suzan Hanson Man - Herbert Perry Woman - Janice Felty Yamamoto - Eugene Perry

Although they do offer musical and visual pleasures, these two new chamber operas by Philip Glass and David Henry Hwang are not convincing examples of East-West fusion. Composer Glass’ often charming score makes good use of a variety of non-Western instruments. But the score’s talk-sung style and the supertitles serve to underline the lack of subtlety and nuance in Hwang’s libretto, which is inspired by Japanese ghost stories and films of the 1970s and ’80s.

The singers and instrumentalists are all first-rate, as are Robert Israel’s spare, modern-art set designs. But even the acting and Robert Woodruff’s direction are compromised by the librettos. While the program notes suggest all sorts of depths and subtleties within them, few if any are revealed in actual performance.

The first, hourlong opera, “A Sound of a Voice,” is concerned with the relationship between an aging, sword-wielding samurai and the witch in the woods he plans to kill. He relents; she urges him to stay because she’s so lonely; a sexual attraction becomes evident between them; he leaves, but returns to find that she has hanged herself.

In the second, slightly shorter opera, “Hotel of Dreams,” a 72-year-old widower goes to a brothel, where he eventually announces himself as a novelist. Its madam fears he will write an expose that would result in the loss of her livelihood. A relationship develops, and the pair ultimately commit dual suicide.

In both cases, there is not enough going on between the lines of the librettos, which are obvious when they’re not vaguely puzzling.

The score, which makes use of pipa, bamboo flute, wood block, tom-toms, tar, dumbeck, wind chimes, tam-tams, castanets and finger cymbals, starts out with a tinkling incandescence that is not immediately identifiable as Glassian, although Glass’ repetitive minimalism does become more evident as the operas progress.

There’s some lovely lyrical flute music played by Susan Gall (the woman in the first opera plays a flute to entertain and seduce the samurai), and pipa virtuoso Wu Man is nothing short of magical at her lute-like instrument. Alan Johnson is a most supportive conductor.

All four singers are excellent, although they are given little opportunity to express deep emotions. While identical twins Herbert and Eugene Perry look too young for their roles, they are splendid vocally. And both Suzan Hanson in the first opera and Janice Felty in the second sing with ravishing musicality.

Israel’s basic set is part sculpture, part abstract art; one of its walls, a black square floating on a white background, looks like a vast Rothko canvas. In the first opera, the stage is dominated by a tilted room made of transparent “paper” within which the “witch” can sometimes be seen playing her flute. A galaxy of colored lights plays across the room as the opera ends. In the second there’s another paper room, this time completely askew and featuring a flight of stairs with huge flowers painted on them.

The Sound of a Voice

Loeb Drama Center, Harvard U., Cambridge, Mass; 560 seats; $68 top

Production: An American Repertory Theater presentation, in association with Chicago's Court Theater, of two one-act operas with music by Philip Glass and text by David Henry Hwang. Directed by Robert Woodruff. Music director-conductor, Alan Johnson.

Creative: Sets, Robert Israel; costumes, Kasia Walicka Maimone; lighting, Beverly Emmons; sound, David Remedios; fight director, Doug Elkins; film projections, Burt Sun, Shalom Buberman; production stage manager, Thomas M. Kauffman. American Repertory Theater artistic director, Woodruff. Opened, reviewed May 28, 2003. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Woman - Suzan Hanson Man - Herbert Perry Woman - Janice Felty Yamamoto - Eugene PerryMusicians: Wu Man, Rebecca Patterson, Susan Gall, Robert Schultz.

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]

  • MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOW MOSCOWby

    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]

  • HBO's 'SUCCESSION

    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content