Senior Stephen Fazio plays in Du Yun's Angel's Bone
Oberlin alumna and celebrated composer, Du Yun, was on campus for performances of her Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Angel's Bone last week. It is scored for four soloists, a small chorus and a mixed ensemble of modest size; it was performed in Oberlin's campus coffeehouse, (well-disguised for the occasion), the Cat In The Cream. Organized and directed by Oberlin Conservatory's Assistant Prof. of Opera Theatre, Chris Mirto, and conducted by Matthew Chamberlain ('13, MM '14), it was given five performances. All sold out. Oberlin senior guitar major, Stephen Fazio, played the highly visible guitar part as part of the instrumental ensemble.
(Performance Photos by Yevhen Gulenko)
The opera is crafted in a highly modern voice, incorporating popular musical elements and electronica along with captivating chamber music textures and recorded sound. The subject matter is difficult and disturbing, the overall effect stunning. Du Yun's storyline has a pair of angels fall to Earth, landing in a suburban couple's backyard compost heap. They are brought into the house and soon are "pruned" - their wings are cut off, and before long they are put to work as sex slaves. The evening features difficult-to-watch abuse scenes of several varieties. In the end, the husband kills himself with feathers from the angel's wings and the angels are permitted to escape. The wife of the couple, the driving force behind the evil in the story, is unrepentant at the end, and the show ends with her in the full bloom of pregnancy from the male angel, whom earlier, she raped. It's pretty wild.
The singers delivered this demanding and emotionally wrenching score with authority and passion. I was particularly taken by Nicholas Music's performance as the boy angel. He had sung music of Schubert on a Guitar Ensemble concert last year, so I knew him and his voice pretty well. But this was another level entirely. Both his vocal delivery and his remarkable physicality on stage were expert.
The singer who played the wife, Alexis Reed, was unflinchingly in command and conveyed her newly discovered power over the two angels with terrifying and compelling bravado. (she much resembled the actress Nicole Kidman).
The other two leads were excellent as well, Shawn Roth, as the husband, and Chloe Falkenheim as the girl angel.
Stephen Fazio was both fully exposed in the score and visible, along with the rest of the ensemble, as they were set to the side of the space and surrounding one of the entry doors to the stage area. He sat in front and was often playing solo, gently amplified. His contribution was deft, and his performance noted by the local write whose review for clevelandclassical.com, in which he was given a mention: "Guitarist Steve Fazio and cellist Annika Krafcik wove webs of sound in expertly handled solo turns" (Nicholas Stevens). I'd have gotten better photos of Steve for this piece but during the performance needed to abide by the house request for no electronics during the show.
Brilliant work, everyone, and congratulations, Du Yun, for such a compelling and arresting work.