By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
"New York, such a small town, really," sings mezzo- soprano Jewish mother Joyce Castle in the first piece, The Festival of Regrets, composed by Deborah Drattell to a libretto by Wendy Wasserstein (The Heidi Chronicles). Set at the park's Bethesda Fountain, it's a one-scene Upper West Side sort of screwball comedy in which a recent divorcée and her ex-husband accidentally meet at a Rosh Hashana ritual in which people cast bread crumbs on the water to symbolically rid themselves of regret. The text is wistfully funny, but the music -- cantorial, clarinetty, klezmeresque and très moderne -- emphasizes the bittersweet and mystic. In the third work, The Food of Love (a pun by omission), from composer Robert Beaser and playwright Terrence McNally (the opera-themed The Master Class), Lauren Flanigan is let loose as a homeless woman with delusions of Madonnahood, who tries to give away her baby to save its life -- a performance that may not wholly benefit from the natural tendency of a soprano in full cry to already sound a little bit crazy. File this one under Man, Man's Inhumanity to: Heartlessness of Big City -- but for Flanigan and a half-friendly cop, it's purposefully a work of two-dimensional types, all of whom are mean or cold or terribly disappointing in one way or another, and the whole affair is overwrought in ways that seem particularly "operatic." But it has its moments.
In between comes the fairly corny, altogether pleasing and ultimately very moving Strawberry Fields, set in that memorial garden with its "echoes and vibes of John Lennon" (who's also name-checked in The Festival of Regrets). A collaboration by A.R. Gurney and Michael Torke (who had a work played at the opening ceremonies of the Atlanta Olympics), it is musically more sprightly and smooth and more hummably melodic than its companions, with a romantic affection for metropolitan motley and a readiness to employ the tear-jerking, throat-lumping effect. Gurney, author of the extremely popular middlebrow epistolary drama Love Letters, once taught a course in opera as drama, and he peppers his amusing text with parodies of and observations on opera practice, and puns on the order of "He's changing his tune," and you will in the bargain learn a thing or two about Giuseppe Verdi. Joyce Castle stars as a rich old lady of fading memory who imagines she's at a Metropolitan Opera matinee and not on a bench in the park, which nevertheless (this being the point) provides an opera of its own. Or as Lennon's old writing partner might put it: She thinks she's in a play; she is anyway. Or as hooky-playing grad student and tenor Jeffrey Lentz puts it, where better to be than "Here, where the sounds of life drown out the fear of nothingness"? Nowhere that I can think of offhand.
For more onCentral Park, see Alan Rich's A Lot of Night Music column.
GREAT PERFORMANCES: CENTRAL PARK | PBS Wednesday, January 19, 9 p.m.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city