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Opera Review: “Stonewall” at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (Through Friday June 28, 2019)

Opera Review: “Stonewall” at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (Through Friday June 28, 2019)
Music by Iain Bell
Libretto by Mark Campbell
Directed by Leonard Foglia
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

To celebrate its third year of presenting an LGBTQ+ opera in the month of June – and the 50th Anniversary of the Riots at Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn - the New York City Opera commissioned the opera “Stonewall” currently running at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center for five performances through Friday June 28, 2019. The one act opera in three parts celebrates the lives of ten disparate and, in a variety of ways, desperate characters who, having each reached their tipping points, decide to visit the mob-owned Stonewall Inn which is about to reach its own tipping point during the pre-ordained and politically motivated raid on the only “safe haven” for the members of the LGBTQ+ communities.

Although Mark Campbell’s characters are “fictional,” each is authentic and embodies believable and recognizable conflicts that drive “Stonewall’s” compelling dramatic arc to its cathartic resolution. in Part I, “clothed” in Iain Bell’s prescient orchestrations, the ten City residents introduce themselves and share their reasons for heading “downtown” on this soon to become iconic night at the bar. While heading to the Village on the subway, a “micro-dick” straight man calls butch lesbian Maggie (heroic mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez) a “cock-sucking dyke” and spits in her face. Although Maggie manages to deck him, the police have no interest in apprehending him. Undeterred by the abuse of the stranger and the shame her father feels for her, Maggie heads downtown to hit “the dance floor, chug a couple of brews, let it all hang out, and [be herself].” Ms. Chavez tackles the text with the same bravado and strength her character summons to subdue her attacker.

Under Leonard Foglia’s powerfully spiritual direction, the remaining nine “Stonewall” characters describe in chilling detail their stories of “profligacy” and persecution. Their distinctive voices display strong interpretive skills, exquisite tonal quality, and controlled vocal modulation. Carlos’s (a passionate baritone Brian James Myer) “lifestyle” results in his termination from a Catholic all-boys school. Andy (seductive tenor Andrew Bidlack) is a teenager who is punched in the face and kicked out of his Buffalo home by his parents and now embraces the life of a hustler on the streets of New York City. Troy (husky bass-baritone Joseph Charles Beutel) is straight go-go boy at the Stonewall, a hustler and a drug addict who, with the help of Sal (gruff baritone Michael Corvino) a manager at the club with ties to the Mafia, shakes down Edward (rich baritone Justin Ryan) the closeted financial advisor from Greenwich, Connecticut with a wife and kids who spent a night with Troy.

Renata (androgynous tenor Jordan Weatherston Pitts), Leah (haunting soprano Jessica Fishenfel), and Sarah (charming mezzo Liz Bouk) complete the roster of ten societal “misfits” headed to the Stonewall. Late-teen Maynard is more comfortable as Renata. Renata allows him to “banish” the “queerness” and “blackness” that single him out at his job at City Hall and “feel good in a dress.” Leah, a Jewish lesbian who was forced to undergo aversion therapy by her parents, heads downtown, “To groove on some music, /Try to talk with people,/Hang out.” Choosing to celebrate her status, Leah hopes to meet “a woman friend.” Sarah, a transgender hippie woman who is celebrating the one-year anniversary of her transition, lights a candle on “the squiggle of a Hostess cupcake” to eulogize the release from “the body that wasn’t mine./Just not mine.”

In Part II of the opera, the ten protagonists have gathered at the Stonewall Inn with other Village denizens to celebrate their identity. They are “happy, drunk, flirting, making out, having a great time.” The popular song on the jukebox sums up the mood: Feel the joy and how it’s spreading,/Happy tears we’ll soon be shedding,/Sugar dumpling, /today’s the day /I start my life with you.” The mood changes quickly when the police officers Larry (tenor Marc Heller), Hennessy (tenor Michael Boley), Giordano (baritone John Allen Nelson), and Cahn (baritone Peter Kendall Clark) arrive demanding IDs from all the patrons and barking racial and homophobic slurs. The iconic riot follows with the climactic “Resist, refuse./You got nothing to lose./Resist, refuse./You got nothing to lose.”

“Stonewall” ends on Christopher Street, right before dawn. Leah, Andy, Carlos, Sarah and Renata are in separate spaces, but come together on one building’s stoop to ask, “What now?/Where do we go from here?” Realizing they have been harassed and harmed, as the “light begins filling the sky,” they determine going forward to say, “No! Just No!” to any further attempts to “beat them down.” However, not knowing “what will happen now,” they are joined by the entire principal and ensemble cast in a grand chorus that tempers hope with realism. With unbridled vocal and emotional cathartic power, the chorus crowds Ricardo Hernandez’s set and asks, “What now?/What will happen?/What should we be doing?/Does it even matter?/There’s no way of knowing,/No sure way of knowing./What happens now?”

“Stonewall” is a stirring tribute to the movement that began on a night in June 1969 when many of New York City’s disenfranchised and despised just said ‘No!” Hopefully this hypnotic and passionate opera will return to the stage soon for a much longer run.

NEW YORK CITY OPERA’S STONEWALL

New York City Opera's “Stonewall” plays at The Rose Theater in Jazz at Lincoln Center (Time Warner Center at 10 Columbus Circle) for only five performances. For more information about New York City Opera's “Stonewall,” including the cast, creative team, and ticketing information, please visit https://nycopera.com/stonewall/. Running time is 75minutes without intermission.

Photo (From L to R): Brian James Myer, Jessica Fishenfeld and Liz Bouk. Credit: Sarah Shatz.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 24, 2019