For the first time, the Albany Symphony Orchestra presented a concert version of an opera Saturday night at the Palace Theatre. It was a new American opera by Evan Mack called “Roscoe,” which received its world premiere in August at the Seagle Music Colony.
Based on William Kennedy’s novel, “Roscoe,” the two-act opera involved 15 soloists, 23 members of the Albany Pro Musica and a reduced orchestra all under music director David Alan Miller. He did a superb job keeping the two hour and twenty minute opera’s twelve scenes together, what with all the tempo and style changes.
In this version, there were no sets or costumes. In an actual opera, so many scenes could be a nightmare. Soloists sat across the front of the stage; the APM sat behind the orchestra. Occasionally, an APM singer joined the soloists as one of the characters. All of them did very well.
This was a through composed opera in which vocal lines were more like dialogue than arias. Lyrics were often actual as librettist Joshua McGuire took them directly from the book. Sometimes in Act I, those words seemed almost too sophisticated or literate to be sung. The music was often nifty with a heavy jazz element, but it often hit dramatic high points with brief, fast exchanges between the orchestra and soloists – a tricky maneuver that made for a choppy, unsettled feel. It was also long. Considering the novel’s complexity, too much plot had to be explained.
Act II, which Mack said was written in two weeks during a stay at Yaddo, had more lyrical and sustained sections – almost like arias – that were very beautiful. The six segments were more seamless, more effortless in construction, lighter and even more humorous.
The soloists did excellent work. As Roscoe, Jeffrey Williams’ well-regulated baritone had dark timbres. His stamina was exceptional as he sang frequently at top volume for almost the entire opera. Mezzo-soprano Tascha Anderson sizzled as Pamela, the seductress in red. Baritone Eric McConnell as Elisha was hip, cool and stylish. Jose Rubio as “Legs” Diamond, among other roles, produced ringing tones in a clear tenor and showed real comic flair. Metropolitan Opera soprano Deborah Voigt as Veronica had a voice that soared easily.
Acting was appropriate for the restrained conditions. Ensemble work was well done. The chorus was mellow and skillful. The small audience hooted, whistled, and clapped enthusiastically.