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Florentine Opera Hits the Right Notes in World Premiere of ‘Sister Carrie’

Oct. 11, 2016
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Photo by Kathy Wittman

Sister Carrie, a two-act opera by composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein (the duo behind Elmer Gantry), received an outstanding launch by the Florentine Opera. Based on Theodore Dreiser’s 1900 novel, Sister Carrie isn’t really a feminist story but rather a genuinely unflattering portrait of a rigid and economically stratified country as told through the experiences of one young, attractive, aspiring singer—Carrie Meeber of rural Wisconsin. She makes her way to Chicago and, eventually, New York; wherever she goes, however, she truly inhabits a “man’s world” but succeeds in achieving her dreams through an adroit understanding of her world.

The central characters are Carrie herself and a man that falls for her with all the ardor and tragedy of Don José in George Bizet’s immortal Carmen. Adriana Zabala was thoroughly convincing in her title role and possessive of a lovely, lilting mezzo-soprano. Fully her equal was scene-stealing baritone Keith Phares as her tormented lover, George. We feel for Carrie and her struggles, surely, but anyone who’s ever pursued the unattainable to his or her own detriment feels true heartbreak for George. 

Aldridge’s through-composed score carried the action forward scene to scene. Carrie and George’s love music was tender and lush—but tinged with foreboding. The sounds of an unforgiving urban scene and a steam-powered industrial age were angular and jolting. An excellent supporting cast filled out the action, and the production’s lighting, staging and costuming all brought the whole experience of Sister Carrie to brilliant fruition and a powerful dénouement.

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