When was the last time a performance of any kind gave you cold chills? Not that squishy-made-for-tv-movie kind, but rather the visceral and literal sort of chills that lets you know something inside you has been moved? That was how I felt at last night’s performance of InsightALT: The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing commissioned by American Lyric Theater and performed at Merkin Hall in conjunction with Opera America’s 2017 New Works Forum.
The question “Why opera?” was posed earlier in the day at a group discussion facilitated by Marc Scorca. And as if the question had been a call, the performance last night was its obliged response. Opera is indeed an often complicated and cumbersome art form, but it is so out of necessity. But to answer “Why opera?” we must also realize that very same complexity offers the possibility to provide an in-depth perspective on any topic—no mater how cumbersome or complicated that topic is. It allows versatility, drama, and helps us to relate, exam, criticize and reflect on the human condition.
The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing is the brainchild of composer Justine F. Chen and librettist David Simpatico. The workshop performance was presented in a concert version with piano and with what might seem to be the most economical resources to perform an opera–no sets, no costumes, no theatrical lighting. But throughout the performance, the audience was reminded that a powerful opera is a dramatic chameleon able to shift and adapt to its circumstances while still being able to convey a narrative and message.
Baritone, Jonathan Michie sang the lead role and demonstrated clear mastery of its dramatic elements. Michie sang with an expressive voice that easily convinced the audience of the explosive and complicated emotions contained within the role. An unexpected delight of the performance was the dramatic integration of the chorus, performed by MasterVoices, who displayed versatility and played a major role in keeping the narrative of the opera moving forward. Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya led the cast and chorus with a surgical precision and provided the balance and style necessary for the audience to appreciate all elements of the new work with equality.
It has been so good these past several days to be reminded of the value and veracity found in new music. It was a powerful experience to be reminded that we have countless stories that need to be told and that contemporary opera is one of many ways in which we can tell them. As we move forward, we must continue to look to luminary organizations such as the American Lyric Theater to light the way for new work and to champion the evolution of the genre.