Recently, I had the opportunity to see Stephen Schwartz's opera, Séance on a Wet Afternoon, and I was excited for two reasons: a) this is Schwartz's first opera; and b) it would be my first American opera experience.
Stephen Schwartz isn't exactly an "emerging" artist, having collaborated on the scores for iconic Disney movies and Broadway hits. But the idea of a songwriter tackling another genre was really exciting, and I was really interested in seeing how his musical theatre style translated into this form.
The show is based on the novel by Mark McShane and the film by Bryan Forbes, both of which tell the story of medium Myra and her devoted husband Bill. Myra's ability to communicate with the dead comes through her ability to speak to her and Bill's deceased son, Arthur. Wanting more recognition for her abilities, Myra, at the suggestion of Arthur, hatches a plan to kidnap a wealthy industrialist's daughter and hold her for ransom, giving Myra the opportunity to offer her services and heroically find the girl.
The story has a lot of twists that keep things interesting, though the parts that really resonated with me were the relationships between the characters and the effects their actions had on the ties that bound them together. The most powerful moments in the show were the moments that explored the relationships between parents and children and the way the parents in the show clung to hope and gave in to the supernatural because of their inexpressible love for their offspring. To see the moments of clarity when Myra sung to or about Arthur juxtaposed with the murkier communication with her husband really set up a compelling story that went far beyond the plot twists and turns.
Overall, I found this show to be accessible and genuinely spooky and heart wrenching at times. One of the most fascinating things to observe, especially not knowing much about opera, was the subtlety of the form and the intertwining relationship between musical theatre and opera throughout. It was interesting to see a show that really communicated Schwartz's music, while being a separate entity in many ways.
The show will be playing until May 1st at Lincoln Center, so be sure to go if you want to experience something a little outside of the musical theatre box!
Also, if you are interested in emerging songwriters and contemporary opera, go out and see some work from Vox 2011, which will feature 12 new, unproduced shows from an amazing host of writers on 5/14 and 5/15.