Séance on a Wet Afternoon – Nov 21-22, 2008

Please share with us your thoughts about this program.
Your responses are critical in helping AOP develop new music!

November 21 & 22, 2008 – 8 PM

seance_temp_thumbnailSéance on a Wet Afternoon

Piano vocal reading of opera
By Stephen Schwartz
Based on the novel by Mark McShane
And the screenplay by Bryan Forbes

CONDUCTOR: Valéry Ryvkin
Scott Schwartz
PERFORMANCES BY: Lauren Flanigan, Michael Zegarski, Hila Plitmann, Caroline Worra, Jessica Miller, Ory Brown, Daniel Hoy, Madeline Marquis, John Kimberling, Garrett McClenahan, Michael Marcotte, Thomas Wazelle, Drew Santini, Matthew Curran, and Maeve Hoglund.


14 Responses to Séance on a Wet Afternoon – Nov 21-22, 2008

  1. Lois C Schwartz says:

    What do I know about high notes — I’m a baritone with a limited range. But, I have been singing “One Little Lie” for weeks now. So nice to leave an opera with something to sing!
    (P.S. I’m not related to Stephen Schwartz, but wish I were!)

  2. From anonymous email to AOP:

    “The most fundamental issue is that the piece has no moral core. I’m not sure why Billy’s mental subjugation to Myra was not more compelling this time. At the end of the day, these come across as insane people who commit tawdry, vicious acts with no hesitation. The fact that Myra conducts a “real” seance at the end is not a worthy payoff for the life of a child you see murdered onstage – twice!! It would have been more wrenching if Billy had deliberately knocked Adriana out instead of just killing her. We watch “2” murders of a child onstage without any compelling moral understanding. It would have been more compelling to see Billy develop a bond with the child – the Stockholm Syndrome. OR, perhaps, more of an understanding of Billy of why he had to stay w/ Myra. We needed moral choices, not just insane acts by repellant people who do not know how to control their own lives. There is no understanding of why Billy and Myra are so evil.

    Children die in infancy; others are stillborn. Most of the time, their parents do not go insane. There is no reason for me to watch 2 insane people for 3 hours descend into greater insanity and obsession because there is no turning point – dramatically – in their arc to this heinous crime.

    I think the first act became terribly long this time – not sure why, but it either needs to be split in 2 – or cut. The decision to murder Adriana in Act 2 came too blandly – and far too quickly. NO moral debate. It was almost like they were running an errand.

    There is some gorgeous music here – & some compelling arias. This libretto can be fixed – & stay true to the movie, if that is what is necessary. But, in this present incarnation, these are not people we care about. We never really understand why being ordinary turns them into obssessives who can then blithely murder. There is no “why” here!!”

  3. musica says:

    I think it’s a good show, and obviously written by a pro. I thought the high notes in “One Little Lie” were too much. The Bs and C. They felt overdrawn for that song to carry psychologically, and too much for the beginning of the opera. The contrast to the later high notes (and buildup of tension) doesn’t come off because there’s not far to go in terms of dramatic pull in the voice, if it’s already exploited its most dramatic range. (I prefer big contrasts and developments)

    I did feel that the vocal lines were beautifully wrought, esp Billy’s aria, and the harmonies lovely. I wanted more harmonic tension sometimes–to reflect the characters’ turmoil. There’s still a B’way sound that I wanted to break away from more completely at some point in an aria. The recits were well done and worked dramatically. I didn’t feel the parents should spend so much time singing about their dear Ariana. Because their obvious anxiety already, it felt like perhaps the composer wanted to give them something to sing, but too much emphasis for my needs. I think the drama sags in the mother’s aria and the duet. If kept, I would keep the tessitura lower for the tenor in this part, too. Just seemed overdone.

    I also felt that the Stravinskyan harmony (recognizably from The Rite) which is used throughout doesn’t come off well. It sounds to me as if the composer couldn’t find his own tension-building sonority, so he borrowed Igor’s, which might work if it had any cultural or psychological relevance to his plot or era, but I couldn’t see the connection. I also felt the melodramatic buildup using ascending chromatic scales later in the opera was a little primitive. It reminded me of a silent movie, which doesn’t connect with the drama–we’re not in that era or anything. And that this composer should be able to provide something more interesting at this time in his development.

    Interestingly, the first act plays well–believably–set in San Francisco in 1962, but I felt the second act played much more as the British movie. And that’s problematic because the two acts don’t hang together so well as a whole. The first act seems American with lots of open emotion the “American” character is noted for when compared to the English. But the second is much more repressed–esp. the parents of the girl and their response to the news that she has been killed–by the woman they are now facing! That they would just walk away seems possible in 1960s England, but not at all believable in American territory. (The husband of the child would more than likely lunge at her and try to throttle her if he were American, don’t you think?) The way that Billy ushers everyone into the seance room, his manner with the child and Myra, and his lines are wonderful, but it all seems so British. Stiff and repressed, just like I remember in the movie (seen years ago, I’m afraid).

    But all in all, it was at times really thrilling to watch/hear, and that the child is killed with so little ado I think came off really well. And the parents having to deal with the death is something that gives the opera version of this story a real edge, and me something to grapple with emotionally. I had a rush of emotion in the 2nd act because of that choice, and was very pleased to feel so much. And that’s what I want to have in an opera and what Stephen Schwartz has let me feel deeply before. That turn sets the opera quite apart from the movie.

    So, Bravo!!

    So that’s my 20 cents.

    Best of luck!

  4. Steve Cole says:

    I so enjoyed Seance on a Wet Afternoon.
    A few thoughts: I felt like Act 1 was entirely too long. Things need to pick up a tad. Possibly cut one of Myra’s arias? Shorten the ending Seance? I also did not care for the duet between the Clayton’s. It seemed way too high vocally and it did not move the plot along. This certainly could be cut. Reading the above post by Alicia, I totally agree with the High note in Myra’s first aria. It was too much and way over the top. To much too early on in the opera.
    I felt Lauren Flanigan was cast well however, hats off to Michael Zegarski. His performance was thrilling and made the evening for me. Besides his incredible voice he is quite the formidable actor. As far as the writing, Bill was the only character I found myself having any sympathy for. I too enjoyed Mrs. Clayton. Her voice and performance was wonderful.
    Act 2 seemed to be more dramatically interesting and exciting. However, the last Seance tends to drag a bit as well. I look forward to more of Stephen Schwartz’s writing. I dont think he should be concerned about calling his work Opera. It goes beyond that. Finally a piece with melody and acting and drama. Seance should open on Broadway and it would reach a much larger audience than it would running just in opera houses.
    Please put me on your mailing list.

  5. Alicia Upchurch says:

    I would really just like to thank the company for putting the production together. And also to thank Stephen Schwartz for taking on the art form of opera and attempting to create new and accessible works in this genre. As a classical singer myself I have become worried for opera with it’s waning popularity. I recently saw the production of Doctor Atomic at The Metropolitan Opera and really loved the performance and found it to be a very interesting and intricate piece of work. However, I also found it to be incredibly inaccessible to the majority of its audience. With Seance on a wet afternoon I believe that Stephen Schwartz has found a way to build upon operatic works and bring progress to the genre while at the same time keeping an audience. The music was incredibly beautiful and poignant but had a new character of life and modernism which I have yet to hear in anything else that has been brought forth under the umbrella of opera. I congratulate all who were involved

    I have only one tiny negative comment, that just sort of flared up, a “note” in fact. There was one instance where I thought that the impact of vocal power stuck out as being out of place. It was a very particular moment, but in the end of the (I believe) first aria sung by character Myra there was a high note that I found to be arbitrarily placed at the end of the song…(when she could have repeated her previous, more moderate, pitch) as I felt this high note was unmotivated by the scene and situation.

    I thought the work was FANTASTIC and am so excited for what lies ahead for this fabulous piece of work. Thank you again!

  6. It was an enjoyable evening. The second act worked well. The first act lacks dramatic tension until the last scene. The medium and her husband were too often trapped in scenes telling each other things they already knew, for our benefit. When the second act began, and Lauren was actually singing something to her husband that he didn’t agree with, well, I thought, here we go. If the two of them are as different as they come to appear in the second Act, they should treat the planned kidnapping differently from the beginning (although obviously not in ways that give away the importance of the dead son), and their relationship with the girl, once she’s there, should be distinctly different. The kidnapping plot is not in itself so interesting — we get it in three seconds — but the characters’ different needs ARE interesting. Likewise, the parents were not dramatized. A disaster like the one they undergo often bring to the surface underlying, pre-existing rifts in a marriage. We don’t need to hear them singing that they miss her; nor is it enough that he doesn’t believe in mediums, and she does. The multiple characters singing in the seance scenes works well. Mr. Schwartz could put that same skill to use with these more important characters.

  7. Ron Zegarski says:

    Enjoyed the workshop very much. This should be a BIG hit. All singers did a great job! Especially our son, Michael Zegarski. (An unbiased opinion!)

  8. Laura Moranna says:

    Just wanted to say I enjoyed the staged reading, “Singing,” of Seance. Particularly enjoyed the performance of Michael Zegarski and also the soprano who played the mother of Adrianna. Both and beautiful voices and exquisite acting. Stephen Schwartz should cast both of them when he does the full length production.

    Thanks for an enjoyable night.

  9. Douglas Martin says:

    Lovely experience, ensemble prepared with precision, conducted with flowing energy by Valery Ryvkin.
    Bravo to the cast, compelling music. One note to the composer, given the sympathetic performance of Lauren Flanigan, who seemed totally lovable even though she was conspiring to kidnap a child; Myra’s husbands 2nd act aria singing about how she was lovable once, confused me a bit.
    Bravo Maestro Schwartz, Maestro Ryvkin, and cast,

    Douglas Martin
    New York City

  10. Charles Sachs says:

    I was very pleased with the workshop performance of Seance on a Wet Afternoon.
    Before attending, I was concerned that Mr. Schwartz might take a more unconventional
    compositional route or fall into the trap that many first time opera composers have,
    i.e. going for odd note endings and lot’s of high notes because these are opera singers.
    I at least knew, he wouldn’t put the best music into the instrumental accompaniment as various orchestral composers have when attempting their first opera.
    Admittedly, I wasn’t too worried. He is an excellent musical dramatist and with opera
    he was able to open up his tonal palette a bit more.
    Some people might feel his music is too accessible, but I say it’s about time
    that we went back to creating melodically strong works. The Atonal style works well
    to a point for very dark dramas, but it’s palette is so limited. One of the most bizarre
    pieces I ever saw at City Opera was an Atonal comic opera!

    I feel that Seance is ready to be put on it’s feet in a full production, only then can
    it be seen what else is needed to be worked on, if anything at all.
    This was my first time attending AOP and I am very glad that I did.
    Thank you for your efforts in developing new works.

  11. Fred Gilbert says:

    This was one of the best operas in English I have ever seen. Intensely dramatic, it only lacked the full impact that a fully staged performance with orchestra will provide. I hope to be able to see a fully staged production in New York in the near future- I am not going to Santa Barbara to see it. The idea of commissioning operas from musical theater composers is a good one. I wonder what Stephen Sondheim would produce with such a commission? You might next consider John Bucchino, whose A CATERED AFFAIR was quasi-operatic.

  12. Donald Richard McClenahan says:

    Yes, I enjoyed the reading of “Seance on a Wet Afternoon” – Nov 21 in NYC. The large hall was excellent for the gathering, acoustics, aesthetics and the candle lite chandeliers added a gala flair.

    The Stephen Schwartz music I found very beautiful and the cast was well chosen. Garrett McClenahan is my nephew and that was certainly part of the reason I attended. Yet I might well have been prtesent even if he were not participating as I love opera and prize new works. [For example John Corrigliano was there and I had attended the World Premiere of “GHOSTS OF VERSAILLES” at the Met in 1991.]

    I had attended the Act 1 reading in Brooklyn almost a year ago and was interested how the work would be concluded, so when friends told me about the complete reading the other day, I went online immediately for a ticket. [I was disappointed that I did not hear from your organization in advance as I had ordered from you in January.]

    Yes, I felt all went well and it appeared as if you made some money for your organization.

    Best always,
    Donald Richard McClenahan
    New York City

  13. Jonathan Wood says:

    Seance was just amazing! A compelling story, talented cast and stunning music. It was an incredible evening of theater.

    The story was so haunting, and the music as well as the space, conveyed that feeling.

    Lauren Flanigan was perfectly cast – what a performance!

    I loved it so much, I plan on going out to Santa Barbara to see the premiere!

  14. Joey Guastella says:

    This was my first time seeing a piece under development with AOP, and, on a whole, I was impressed with the work and the professional atmosphere in which it was carried out. Such a workshop situation is essential to the creation of any live performance piece, and I really enjoyed being there in a such a supportive and creative environment.

    To be quite honest, I really don’t get to the opera all that often– I mostly attend the theatre. This particular piece (Seance on a Wet Afternoon), immediately struck out at me when I read about it on playbill.com. I was drawn in by the topic and of course the fact that Stephen Schwartz had written it.

    I can definitely see this piece staged, and am sure it will be gripping once it comes into full form. I for one, would be quite interested in seeing Seance… on its feet.

    I was instantly pulled into the action by the opening music, and thought the performances were outstanding. The singers’ diction was clear (I had wondered what that would be like before I got there, to be honest), and these were most certainly opera singers who can act! That’s not always the case. The premise as well, is also quite discernible and I WANTED to stay with the drama throughout. The atmosphere of the piece remained consistent throughout, and toward the end, I became involved enough to forget that I was even viewing a workshop reading.

    The action of the piece moves at a decent rate, and Schwartz’s prowess and experience in musical theatre shows as well in opera, as the songs here move the story along.

    Since I only manage to get to the opera maybe twice a year, I won’t pretend to be an expert on the subject, though (since it is a workshop), I do want to offer one observation which you can make of what you will. For an opera, I noticed a tidy bit of dialogue between the performers. In fact, there were some moments which I thought could have easily been sung, but were not. To be quite honest, it was in those (spoken) moments, that I sometimes felt pulled away from the drama because the genre seemed to be somehow “broken.” However, I was immediately pulled back into the action when the music, once again, started up.

    I did see elements of musical theatre mixed into the piece from time to time as well. Sometimes I actually thought it worked though– who’s to say that new American opera can’t have some overtones of musical theatre (a genre as far as I’m concerned America excels in).

    Overall, I thought last night’s workshop was a great experience, and I do want to return for other readings. The workshop/developmental stage is really exciting, and AOP should be commended for fostering this pivotal part of the creative process to the degree in which they do.

    –Joey Guastella

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