On October 9, 2020, DecameronOpera Coalition, a partnership of nine small opera companies, debuted part I of Tales from a Safe Distance, the first video segment of what the Dresser believes to be opera for everyone. The music is accessibly tonal. The stories speaks to our contemporary situations. The singers are first rate professionals. The super imposed scenery and special effects tickle the imagination. The Dresser suggests that the strategy used by these opera companies is an update on Puccini who appealed to a broad audience and still commands big audiences.
During “Episode I: Both Gladsome and Grievous,” three tiny stories—“The Happy Hour,” “Everything Comes to a Head,” and “The Late Walk,” inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, aired musically in a time frame ranging from nine to thirteen minutes. The singers were geographically dispersed but often singing together.
The touchstone opera “The Happy Hour” starts with Peter Hilliard’s soothing piano and mellow horn as people in their various abodes pour drinks for themselves. Luca Pisaroni, Italian bass-baritone, mentions it is a notte fonda (late night) for him. In nine minutes, we learn this is a group of singers, meeting on Zoom to lament their isolation. “Here we are in our boxes. Stuck.” They vow to meet in person, “when the lockdown is over, if I’m not six feet below clover.” Matt Boresi’s libretto is snappy and fun with it’s easy poetry. The story turns when Luca suggests they tell stories to entertain each other.
“Everything Comes to a Head” is American baritone Jorell William’s tale to tell but he as Basil is also the head in the story, which is deliciously awful. His lover’s roommates have chopped him up because he has annoyed them in their kitchen. His lover Rosemary (Marjorie Maltais) hides Basil’s head in her potted herb, which is what? Yes, of course, basil which is now what the roommates want for the pasta they are cooking. The energetic music is by Rachel J. Peters. The clever libretto is by Margi Preus and Jean Sramek. Christina Baldwin is the able director and the fabulous superimposed sets are by Ann Gumpper. The producing opera company with hats off to them is Lyric Opera of the North, Duluth, MN.
“The Late Walk” by Bare Opera of New York was written by composer Jasmine Barnes with libretto by Nikolaus Hochstein Cox. It is a ghost story. The special effects with bats flying by is a perfect lead in to the Halloween season.
Tickets are priced ridiculous low at $15 for all four segments of this opera. At this date, Episode 1 and it’s talkback is what is available. The debut of the other segments airs as follows:
October 16, 2020 Episode 2: Prompted by Appetite
- “Dinner 4 3” (Fargo-Moorhead Opera | Fargo, ND)
- “The Roost” (UrbanArias | Washington, DC)
October 23, 2020 Episode 3: So Noble a Heart
- “Orsa Ibernata” (Milwaukee Opera Theater | Milwaukee, WI)
- “Seven Spells” (Opera in the Heights | Houston, TX)
- “The Sky Where You Are” (An Opera Theater | Minneapolis, MN)
October 30, 2020 Episode 4: The Bolts of Fortune
- “Sourdough: Rise Up” (Resonance Works | Pittsburgh, PA)
- “Corsair” (Chicago Fringe Opera | Chicago, IL)
- “The Happy Hour” (Conclusion)
During this time of national turmoil and uncertainty, the Dresser suggests we all need nurturing and time away from what is stressing us. Like that potato chip that poet Elaine Magarrell has become in her poem “You Are What You Eat,” the Dresser bets that once you see what the Decameron Opera Coalition is holding out, you will want more.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
When she was a child
Mother was mashed
brains and poultry tails,
the throwaway parts
no one else wanted.
She grew up to be a secret
chocolate bar in the kitchen
drawer. When he married
Father was lamb
with blood at the bone
but toward the end
he was coddled egg.
When we met, my husband
was Peking Duck.
I was Greek olives, dark
and glistening near
the aperitif. Now he is
water and scotch
and I am one potato chip.
by Elaine Magarrell
from The Madness of Chefs