Featured members of the casts, orchestras, and production teams of productions of Vera from around the world.
West Edge Opera
El Cerrito, California
Vera - Brian Asawa
Doll - Heidi Moss Sali
Taco - Thomas Glenn
Dumdum - Paul Murray
Jonathan Khuner, Music Director
Mark Streshinsky, Artistic Director
OPERA SKILLFULLY SKEWERS CAPITALISM
Capitalism took a hit last Sunday when West Edge Opera opened two one-act works at El Cerrito High's theater with a strong anti-establishment message: Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Mahagonny Songspiel and the more contemporary Vera of Las Vegas, written by American composer Daron Hagen and Irish poet Paul Muldoon.
The two works have much in common: both are musical fantasies with a similar message of alienation and remorse, both have jazz at their roots, both are set in sinful cities - 1920s Berlin and whenever Las Vegas respectively - both are short forms of larger operas.
West Edge delivered the production with the company's usual intelligence and spiky energy. The operas were strongly cast and well sung and for the most part effectively staged, with company music director Jonathan Khuner leading a ten-piece cabaret orchestra from the piano.
Daron Hagen's eclectic score [for West Edge Opera's production of VERA] is wholly engaging as it ranges from ballad to blues to bop to Broadway.
Hagen has reworked the score for the production's cabaret orchestra and added to the usual operatic roster a countertenor in the title role, giving each fully fledged arias to flesh out the characters.
In Vera, Taco Bell and Dumdum Devine (Thomas Glenn and Paul Murray) are two IRA terrorists being pursued by an immigration agent named Doll (vibrantly sung by Heidi Moss). Stuck in the Las Vegas airport enroute to Los Angeles, they meet Doll and Vera, a transvestite informer and enchantress whom Taco falls hard for.
The title role is riotously played by the great countertenor Brian Asawa, a casting coup for the company. Asawa is an imperious figure and enjoys himself enormously through the hour-long performance. Glenn and Murray appear Irish to the core, and woefully clueless.
Doll and Vera are given the most expansive arias, and Doll, assisted by a chorus line of nuns, call girls and flight attendants, unravels the story, which is colorfully complicated by Mark Streshinsky's high-paced staging and Jeremy Knight's video images. — Caroline Crawford, El Cerrito Patch, August 3, 2012
The Catchalls serve as a Wedding Chapel chorus at a drive-thru chapel in Vegas. From the West Edge Opera production.
VERA DOES VEGAS
Ah, the wages of sin. Greed, lust, vanity, and mendacity may lead to a life of misery, but they can usually be counted on to inspire rewarding works of musical theater. This month at West Edge Opera, they're yielding the reasonably entertaining, if rather uneven, double bill of Vera of Las Vegas, by Daron Hagen and Paul Muldoon, and the Mahagonny Songspiel of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.
Hagen and Muldoon's hour-long "popera" emerged the chief attraction of Sunday afternoon's opening performance at the El Cerrito Performing Arts Theater, with the 30-minute Brecht-Weill songspiel - the forerunner of the composers' evening-length Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny - serving as the curtain-raiser. Presented under the title "City of Sin," the dual production repeats through Aug. 5 as the final offering of West Edge's 2011-2012 season.
Vera follows a pair of former Irish Republican Army gunsels making their way from New York to Los Angeles with the goal of becoming contestants on Wheel of Fortune. Taco Bell and Dumdum Devine are dim-bulb grifters for whom Dashiell Hammett might have written his famous line "the cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter." When a twist of fate lands them in a Las Vegas layover, it's clear from the start that they're in over their heads; right away, they meet two women - Doll, a hard-boiled INS officer, and the title character, a mysterious transvestite lap-dancer. Taco and Vera are irresistibly drawn to one another, and a romantic interlude follows.
It doesn't end well (these things never do), yet the situation gives composer Hagen and librettist Muldoon plenty of opportunities for surreal-comic expansion. As Taco and Dumdum recall their past misdeeds and riff on pop culture references, from Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck to Bono and The Edge, a women's chorus rises from the pit at key intervals to comment as flight attendants, pole dancers, nuns, and blackjack dealers. There's a larky dance in a wedding chapel for hermaphrodite brides and an Elvis impersonator. Sentimentality intrudes with Doll's reverie on her show-biz beginnings. An aria for the title character (who shares a last name with Willy Loman) delves into a mournful past.
Hagen's score slips and slides through jazzy flights, stock lounge-lizard constructions, and ear-catching atonal harmonies, while the vocal writing tends to flatter the singers. Jonathan Khuner, conducting from the piano, led a 10-piece onstage band through the hour-long performance, mostly without incident. Staging, by West Edge Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky and aided by Jeremy Knight's amusingly literal video projections, mined Muldoon's poetry for maximum humor, and the cast delved into their parts with considerable gusto. Countertenor Brian Asawa, a San Francisco Opera veteran making his West Edge debut, sang the title role with stylistic allure and an air of bruised sensuality. Tenor Thomas Glenn made a guileless, articulate Taco, and bass-baritone Paul Murray was a solid Dumdum. Soprano Heidi Moss exuded steely appeal as Doll. — Georgeia Rowe, San Francisco Classical Voice, August, 2012.
The Glorious Houston Catchalls perform on Houston television.
Read the Houston Chronicle's rave review.
[Vera's authors are particularly proud that Opera Vista collaborated with Bering Omega Community Services of Houston by donating a portion of the cost of each ticket to Bering Omega.]
The Times of London
VERA of LAS VEGAS EUROPEAN PREMIERE
November 25, 2004
By Robert Thicknesse
CONTEMPORARY opera? It is enough to strike a chill into the soul: it parted company with the idea of entertainment a while back and one steels oneself for a gloomy experience of unremitting rigour.
So hooray for this work by the American composer Daron Hagen and the Ulster poet Paul Muldoon. It is billed as a "nightmare cabaret opera", lasts a painless hour, was premiered last year in New York, and is a neat find by Ireland’s Opera Theatre Company, which is taking it on a short tour of the Republic before bringing it to Britain next year.
Sassy libretto and music fool about happily with genres. Two retired IRA boneheads, Taco and Dumdum, living illegally in New York, are pursued by Immigration and by two renegade MI5 officers. As they change planes at Las Vegas, the INS agent Doll tricks them into thinking they have won a free day on the tables, and sets them up with Vera, a transvestite lapdancer past his prime who Taco falls for.
It’s about dawning self-awareness and coming to terms with the past, and it raises plenty of piquancies without getting heavy. You wish you could hear more of the words: Muldoon’s libretto is anyway dense enough for a spoken play and should probably be cut by about half — it’s impossible to follow his long paragraphs, however nicely constructed, and then you can’t hear half of it. It’s not a problem of texture or scoring.
Hagen’s music, smoochily played by a cabaret quartet, blends idioms — neo-Gershwin, jazz, soft rock, Broadway — with soaring melodies that send the characters looping off in arias of self-revelation. He has a gift for pastiche and musical surrealism as well as a distinctive voice for moments where words and music coincide. If Vera feels somewhat inconsequential and anecdotal there is a reason: it is the central act of a planned full-length opera.
As the pair (Alan Fairs and Eugene Ginty) stumble through a cleverly painted Vegas their plight is commented on by a chorus of airhostesses and showgirls who do the operatic impossible of both looking and sounding good. Annilese Miskimmon directs with pace and wit, Linda Dobell moves everyone around brilliantly, and the set is neatly done. Jonathan Peter Kenny, as Aladdin Sane-lookalike Vera, and Charlotte Page as Doll stand out among the singers.
Authors Daron Hagen & Paul Muldoon.
Click on the logo above to listen to an ASCAP-radio podcast interview with Daron Hagen about the opera.
The original CRI cast recording is SOLD OUT! You can still buy a used copy by clicking here at amazon.com.
Visit Opera America's Official Vera page in the North American Works Directory by clicking on the image below:
Thanks to a Vera fan for bringing this to her attention:
Muldoon's libretto looks as though it might fetch a pretty penny on Ebay...!