Les Enfants Terribles
ON APRIL 3, Opera Omaha offered a stunning evening of music, dance and theater with Philip Glass’s
chamber opera Les Enfants Terribles, the first of the company’s two 2019 ONE Festival operas. A large
open area of the Mastercraft Building at Millwork Commons, an old mattress factory now repurposed as an office space, was filled with risers for the audience and a large staging area, designed by Yuki Izumihara. The square stage was painted white, and the main playing area was surrounded by a trench filled with white plastic objects. The space was the perfect setting for James Darrah’s powerful, evocative and physically demanding staging.
Darrah cleverly established the strong, incestuous bond between the two main characters, the orphaned siblings Paul and Elisabeth, as they played their “Game.” In concert with choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, the director effectively used dancers Shauna Davis, Chris Emile, Lindsey Matheis and Charbel Rohayem to symbolize the unstable psychological states of the characters in the piece, subtitled “a dance opera.” A particularly effective moment came when Elisabeth wrestled with what to do about Paul’s affection for Agathe. The dancers moved in and out of sequence with Elisabeth’s movements, drawing her deeper into the depths of her deranged fantasy until she forcibly removed herself from her terrifying dream.
Near the end of the opera, when Elisabeth mentions that Paul is on a billiard table, Darrah had the dancers roll billiard balls down the raked stage into the trench, resulting in a stunning visual and auditory effect. Sansano and Darrah achieved an optimal blend of dance and theater that elevated Glass’s opera to a level of clarity and meaning that will undoubtedly enkindle a passion for opera in those in the audience who were new to genre and renew the excitement of those already enthralled.
The cast easily met the demands set by Glass, Sansano and Darrah. Vanessa Becerra’s light soprano handled the demands of Elisabeth well, and her performance as the self-absorbed, spoiled, psychotic young woman was beguiling. Bass-baritone Theo Hoffman’s energetic, playful characterization of the childish Paul was delightful, although his tone was too dark at times. Adrian Kramer, who played the roles of Gérard and the Narrator, easily filled the hall with his bright, clear tenor. Mezzo-soprano Naomi Louisa O’Connell sang both Dargelos, the boy who is Paul’s first obsession, and Agathe, the girl whom Paul grows to love, with strength and compassion.
Pianists Maureen Zoltek, Eric Andries and Bryan Stanley played in perfect coordination with each other in this three-piano score, aided by conductor David Bloom. The rhythmic costume design by Camille Assaf added beautiful movement, colors and contrasts to Izumihara’s minimalist set. The whole production was brilliantly lit by D. M. Woods. —Kevin Hanrahan