One year has now passed since Marble City Opera first appeared on the Knoxville music scene, taking on the genre generically known as chamber opera—smaller-scale operatic works intended for intimate venues. The company, founded by singers Kathryn Frady Marvel and Kevin Richard Doherty, began life last May with The Face on the Barroom Floor at Relix Variety Theatre, followed in December by David Conte’s The Gift of the Magi at Remedy Coffee. This weekend, the company embarks upon its third major venture, a theatrical pastiche of sorts under the umbrella title of Ties That Bond. The performance consists of a creative arrangement of three short contemporary American operas, each offering its own particular musical language, but linked by a juxtaposition of dramatic themes. This time the intimate venue is the Carpetbag-Black Box at the Emporium on Gay Street.
As the title suggests, it’s an evening about relationships, explains MCO founding artistic director Marvel. “Ties That Bond … looks at relationships and what brings them together and keeps them together,” she says. “What is most important—love, money, status, society, or traditional conventions?”
The three operas, all directed by Thomas Isaac Collins, will open with Introductions and Goodbyes, a single-character piece from 1961 by composer Lukas Foss with a libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti. The work itself is just nine minutes long, but it will be broken into two pieces in this production to bookend the evening. The work brims with irony as “the host,” Mr. McC, sung by MCO general director Doherty, welcomes guests to a cocktail party and later bids them goodbye—mocking, in a way, the conventions of polite society.
The evening’s second opera is Hugo Weisgall’s 1989 work Will You Marry Me?, also set at a party, where an unnamed couple, sung by Natalee Louise McReynolds and Ryan Olson, is forced into an arranged marriage. “Weisgall’s opera is an exciting, very contemporary critique of why people choose to marry,” Collins explains. “The central question is, should one marry for love or money?”
Next, Samuel Barber’s short work A Hand of Bridge, from 1959, is performed by four singers—Ian Richardson, Linda Barnett, Dan Sparkes, and Martha Prewitt—around a card table.
“Two couples find themselves trapped in a nightly game of bridge that is slowly driving them all insane,” Collins says. “Through the course of one hand, each character sings about the life that they wish they had, secrets that they keep, their fears and obsessions.”
When MCO begin life a year ago, an obvious question was, is there a deep enough pool of resident professional operatic talent in Knoxville for such a program to grow and prosper? The answer seems to be a resounding yes. In fact, the company’s continued existence appears to be guaranteeing that will be the case for the future as well.
Pianist Spencer Myer is no stranger to Knoxville and Knoxvillians—and certainly not a stranger by reputation. I noted his last appearance with Knoxville Symphony Orchestra in 2008 in a Metro Pulse review: “In profile, at least, the man seated at the piano bore some slight resemblance to the iconic American composer whose music he was playing. The man at the piano—guest pianist Spencer Myer. And the music—George Gershwin’s Concerto in F.”
On his return visit to the KSO this weekend, Myer takes on Beethoven and his Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, a performance that is highly anticipated by those who remember Myer’s artistry. However, Myer first made friends in Knoxville with an appearance in 2006 in the Evelyn Miller Young Pianist Series, a booking that was repeated in 2008 and 2012. Because of these past associations, Myer will perform a recital this weekend under the auspices of YPS to honor the memory of the organization’s late executive director, Sandra Murphy. That recital takes place on Sunday, May 18, at 2:30 p.m. in the Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall at the Haslam Music Center on the University of Tennessee campus. Tickets are available at the door.
Myer’s recital program will include three sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, Fantasie in C Major by Robert Schumann, Images, Book II of Claude Debussy, and three selections from The Garden of Eden by William Bolcom.