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The Santa Fe Opera has long been known as an opera house that likes its Mozart, but also gives audiences an opportunity to experience contemporary offerings, including world premieres of works by such composers as Lewis Spratlan and Bright Sheng.
This summer, Santa Fe stages Oscar, a thought-provoking work by composer Theodore Morrison and librettist John Cox.
Oscar is the story of Oscar Wilde’s trial and imprisonment for gross indecency.
This story truly makes one think about personal freedoms and how much our society has progressed since Queen Victoria’s rule.
The title role was composed especially for countertenor David Daniels, and he does a magnificent job with this melismatic, vocally demanding role that requires a huge amount of on-stage time.
Daniels doesn’t just perform the role; he inhabits it, and his Wilde is a kind, gentle soul who suffers yet treats his fellow human beings lovingly.
The pain of his broken heart is apparent and he brings the audience right along with him as he dreams of the one he loves, who has been taken away from him.
Each member of the cast adds greatly to the overall color of this intense piece. Heidi Stober as Ada Leverson and William Burden as Frank Harris have great chemistry with Daniels and each other, and their voices fit their roles well.
Together, they have some incredibly lovely, harmonically interesting duets. Walt Whitman, sung by Dwayne Croft, is a sort of guide for the audience and for Wilde. Croft brings an interesting color to his role, and the addition of his character adds wonderful texture to the opera.
The costumes and staging are absolutely flawless. The courtroom scene, especially, is captivating and adds more dark humor to the piece. The scenes in the prison, especially the hanging, are about as realistic as opera ever gets and serve to reinforce the horror Wilde must have experienced during his time in Reading Gaol.
Dancer Reed Luplau silently portrays Bosie, the absent love of Wilde. Luplau’s lithe grace adds yet another lovely layer to this complex work and provides beautiful freedom and lightness that contrasts with Daniels’ solid stage presence and physical imprisonment.
He dances through Wilde’s mind and helps the audience to see the loneliness that Wilde must have experienced during this difficult time.
There is not a single element of this piece that doesn’t work; the care and thought put into Oscar by every single person involved is apparent at every step of the way. It is a difficult, heart-wrenching work that also entertains and amuses.
The music is solid and interesting and this true story is hard to believe.
Oscar is definitely not for young children, as the intensity in several scenes may be too much for them, and the music is not necessarily full of hummable melodies, just as one might expect of a modern piece.
However, for those who enjoy thought-provoking art that requires a little more work on their part, Oscar will not disappoint. It is, truly, beautiful.