I saw a performance of “The Veil of Forgetfulness” on Tuesday evening. Described as “a mystical opera in two acts,” its libretto and music is by Susan Stoderl, who also conducted. The “art installation” (which I would’ve called projections; there’s nothing wrong with projections, would that we all could work with Wendell Harrington) was by Sarah Olson.
Set in an abbey during the Dark Ages, an abbess (based on the actual Marie de France, whose writing was quite racy for its day), her nuns, her very pregnant niece, and their cook (a Jewish woman to whom they’ve given asylum) are the seven keepers of the veil of forgetfulness. The opera ends with the niece dying in childbirth, and the nun with the will-to-power (Regina) trying to make up her mind if she’ll follow her sisters, or go her own way.
“The Veil of Forgetfulness” was performed by seven very talented singers; the two that stood out the most to me (and I admit that I knew their work previously) were Ilya Speranza as Dympha and Tracy Bidleman as Regina. They were accompanied by a five piece ensemble: organ, oboe, flute, synthesizer and cello.
The music was quite rich and varied. In it, I heard every from Cesar Franck, early Francois Poulenc, Phillip Glass’ pulsing tones and harmonies akin to Stephen Sondheim’s “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.” The music is the thing that carries the emotion of the piece. Unfortunately, it is not helped much by the lyrics (the opera is sung-through). The lyrics contain a lot of exposition and explanation; the second act is almost entirely arias that do just that. There are perfect rhymes, false rhymes and no rhymes (there may have been an interior logic to this but I didn’t see it). There were places where lyric repetition would have been welcome for reasons of emphasis, but there was little of that. This resulted in a sense that all the lyrics were of equal weight, which I doubt was the lyricist’s intention.
The music sounded quite difficult to sing (and I can pull a perfect ninth out of thin air when called upon). But this was daunting. The setting of the Church of the Holy Trinity certainly added to the atmosphere the opera was trying to evoke. The next Music at Holy Trinity event (Dr. Stephen Hamilton, Artistic Director)is on Monday at 8PM; James David Christie is performing on the Rieger pipe organ. For more information, clink on the link above.