Review: Marble City Opera’s Premieres a Stunning Success

Although Marble City Opera hasn’t even reached its 2nd birthday yet, Knoxville’s chamber opera company has definitely found a place on the musical map for itself. The company’s opening performance of two short operas (world premieres, no less) by Larry Delinger last night at the Square Room confirmed what many intuitively felt—there is a lofty and essential place in Knoxville’s music scene for brilliantly executed chamber opera.

Prior to this month, Delinger was known by most (including this reviewer) as a composer of incidental music for theatrical productions, and one can understand why. His music is addictively descriptive and atmospheric, with tonalities that blend soft, dramatic lyricism with complex and sophisticated instrumental textures. With the two operas heard this week—Talk to Me Like the Rain and Amelia Lost—Delinger proved that he also excels at writing for the voice.

TalkToMeTalk to Me Like the Rain is a two character piece based on the one-act play by Tennessee Williams. The un-named Man and Woman, sung by Daniel Webb and Krista Wilhelmsen, are a couple with communication issues of their own making. Directed by Calvin MacLean, the pair wove a satisfying web of drama around their characters, highlighted by gutsy and extremely likable vocal performances.

Amelia Lost featured soprano Kathryn Frady in a one-woman character piece about a homeless woman who believes she is Amelia Earhart.Frady_Amelia Frady’s performance was, simply stated, a sensational theatre experience. Matching her vocal characterization was an almost uncanny ability to dramatically transform her face, and her persona, from softness and gentleness, to angst-ridden and depleted. James Marvel directed.

Thanks to the Square Room’s technical capabilities, Marble City Opera was at last able to add some badly needed visual enhancements to their productions—namely lighting and scenic support. Video images by Kristin Geisler were subtly suggestive and intriguing.

The inherent atmospheric beauty of Delinger’s score was superbly handled by the instrumental ensembles under the direction of Gene Peterson. However, one obstacle remains in Marble City Opera’s use of instrumental forces—how to balance the volume of the ensemble against singers in smaller venues where an orchestra pit, or muting capability, does not exist. Even underplaying, the ensemble overwhelmed the singers at times, particularly in Talk to Me Like the Rain.

In my review of last May’s Marble City Opera pastiche, Ties That Bond, I stated “Theatre, after all, is still theatre–and theatrical Knoxville needs Marble City Opera as an essential segment of that scene.” I can now optimistically second that emotion.

The final performance of the two Delinger operas by Marble City Opera is Saturday afternoon, November 1, at 2 p.m. at the Square Room.