A Modern Opera, a review
It is likely I would not have gone to see a local opera company had I not already been familiar with the work of the poet, Gavin Geoffrey Dillard. After all, I have seen plenty of opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and plenty of local theater. But this has an intriguing premise that was too good to pass up.
I first encountered Mr. Dillard in the late 1980s. I was looking for a book of poetry that was well reviewed and actually contacted him at the publisher. I found earlier works as well as later and even exchanged correspondence with the author. His poetic style is unique, varied and always interesting.
Originally the librettist, John De Los Santos, had proposed an opera based on Dillard’s autobiography, In The Flesh. Dillard countered with the idea of an older poet with a bit of writer’s block, and a younger one who becomes his muse. The idea came to him as he had been in correspondence with a younger fan/poet over a certain length of time. They exchanged poems just as the characters of the opera do. The opera, however, is not a telling of that, but rather uniquely original.
De Los Santos constructed the work in 5 sections. A couple of collections of older works of Dillard provided the voice of the muse/younger poet, while more recent works provided the basis of the older poets words. De Los Santos advised that he was able to put the pieces together in just five months. You will find that remarkable if you are lucky enough to catch the show.
Director /choreographer/librettist John De Los Santos approached composer Clint Borzoni for the music. At first, he was unsure of the project but got rolling as the words suggested to him the music. He has crafted a work that would be challenging to the seasoned professional.
The two young men who provide an entire full-length opera in the Chicago production are up to the challenge. Jonathan Wilson plays the poet while Nathan James Kistler is his muse. They are always engaged and engaging. The time moves quickly when performers keep your attention on the storyline. Like any good opera, the company projects the words above the performance area. This is particularly helpful with the unique work of Dillard.
The story is aided with the interpretive dance of Jay Espano and Christopher Young at various moments throughout. For their purposes, a larger stage would have been helpful, but they manage well nonetheless.
Thompson Street Opera Company’s production at the Broadway Theater at the Pride Arts Center is the second production of the opera. It premiered at the Ashville Lyric Opera in May 2018.
Finally, don’t be put off (or turned on) by the Opera Company notice that there is full male nudity in the show. It lasts about 3 seconds on a darkened performance area and the lights go out quickly. If you see anything at all (I didn’t), then I suggest you have probably seen such things before.