USC Thornton Opera presented a concert reading of the new opera Frau Schindler written by composer Thomas Morse and librettist Ken Cazan. The performance was held in Newman Recital Hall Feb. 5.
The opera presents the experiences and tribulations of Oskar Schindler’s wife, Emilie, during her and Oskar’s attempts to save over a thousand Jewish prisoners during the Holocaust. The show presents many of the same issues portrayed in the Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film Schindler’s List, though through the lens of Emilie’s perspective. In the program notes, Morse states, “Frau Schindler, a serious opera, portrays the psychology of the times — how people were able to turn things around in their minds in order to rationalize and live with their actions.”
Cazan, who also serves as resident stage director of USC Thornton Opera, first became involved with the project when he was approached by a colleague of Morse, asking if he was interested in participating in the project. Though Friday’s performance was only a concert reading of the opera, Frau Schindler is expected to make its European debut sometime within the winter/spring 2017 season.
Overall, the performance was sung well. Students within the Vocal Arts program sang a majority of the roles, though two guest artists were hired to sing Emilie and Oskar. In the titular role, mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert sang with a plush, rich tone, though her sound was sometimes lost over the orchestra as she approached her lower register. Baritone Troy Cook, as Oskar, posseses a velvety sound that was seamless from top to bottom. Both artists successfully interpreted their respective roles.
As Marthe Marker, a Jewish prisoner hired as a maid by the Schindler’s, soprano Alyssa Wills sang with a distinct timbre that is both sweet and full. She sounded especially delightful in her upper register. Her duet with Gaissert in Act III was among the most touching moment of the evening.
Mezzo-soprano Katie Beck performed the role of Frau Von Daubek, stepping in as a last minute replacement for soprano Yelena Dyachek. Beck, who triumphed as Sesto is last semester’s production of Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito, once again delivered a phenomenally sung, albeit brief, performance.
More information regarding future performances with USC Thornton Opera can be found online.