Fellow Travelers

November 14, 2019

in Operas

Opera (2016)

Music by Gregory Spears
Libretto by Greg Pierce
Based on the novel Fellow Travelers (2007) by Thomas Mallon

Conductor: Emily Senturia
Stage Director: Peter Rothstein

Boston Lyric Opera
Emerson Paramount Center
Theater District
November 13-17, 2019

Set Designer: Sara Brown; Costume Designer: Trevor Bowen; Lighting Designer: Mary Shabatura

With Jesse Blumberg (Hawkins Fuller), Jesse Darden (Timothy Laughlin), Simon Dyer, Vincent Turregano, James Maddalena, Michelle Trainor (Miss Lightfoot), Chelsea Basler (mary Johnson), David McFerrin (), Brianna J. Robinson (Lucy)

Jesse Darden as Timothy Laughlin, Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller in 'Fellow Travelers'

Jesse Darden as Timothy Laughlin
Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller
in “Fellow Travelers”
Photo: Lisa Voll
Courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

A superb production of a beautifully written opera about the Lavender Scare of the early 1950’s, an anti-gay program sanctioned by the United States government.

The Lavender Scare, an initiative to oust gays from US government service, gained prominence around the same time as the Red Scare which did the same to leftists. As a result, several thousands of US government workers were dismissed.

The current opera, inspired by those events, is based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon. Music by Gregory Spears is astoundingly good – so richly varied and interestingly thematic while maintaining its distinctiveness. And the libretto by Greg Pierce, though all in vernacular, is revealing and down to earth in a highly effective way. The merged effect is transfixing, and the production given by the Boston Lyric Opera is stellar.

Set in 1953, the romance between two government workers, Hawkins Fuller (Jesse Blumberg) and Timothy Laughlin (Jesse Darden), begins with a meeting in the park that soon evolves into a passionate encounter. Hawkins is more established at the State Department in Washington but manages to recommend Timothy for new and better positions. As time goes on and the romance intensifies, the secrecy of their relationship becomes harder to maintain. Hawkins is brought in for questioning and the threat of dismissal looms. Despite the intensity of the relationship, the promises and threats related to government employment influence both of them and drives the relationship towards difficult challenges.

The brilliance of this production is apparent at every turn. The music is scintillating in all regards. Tuneful to an extent, but not at all mawkish or cloying, it enables a kind of approach to aria and ensemble which feels both modern and natural. Instead of employing a forced repetitiousness, the score has an interesting interweaving of proto-melody and abstraction that sets a profound set of moods while not intentionally jarring the ear. There are some exquisite arias here, and the ensemble work as well is distinctive. At some points there are so many singers doing so many interesting things together that it’s really astounding, reminiscent, in some ways, of some of Mozart’s great ensemble moments in Così Fan Tutte.

Music direction by Emily Senturia is first rate. She draws an amazing response from her small orchestra and from the singers and the result is profound and moving. The leadership is precise and evocative throughout, and the score is, by no means, easy.

The singing, all around, is top notch. The principals, Jesse Blumberg and Jesse Darden, both have clear and compelling voices, and their acting is excellent. As Hawkins’ assistant and Timothy’s friend Mary, Chelsea Basler has the opportunity to belt it out and she surely does that, with gusto, and indeed very impressively.

Set design by Sara Brown is straightforward but eloquent. It’s amazing how dramatic the design seems, but also how flexible. For a show which is running for only a few performances, this is an outstanding effort. Complementing Brown’s sets is the straightforward but dramatic and stirring lighting design by Mary Shabatura. The costumes by Trevor Bowen are also interesting and effective.

Don’t miss this show! It’s an aesthetically sophisticated creation and a fabulous production of a modern opera which likely to become a classic about an important and tragic moment in recent American history.

– BADMan (aka Charles Munitz)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alan Wittenberg November 16, 2019 at 6:07 am

Hi Charlie,

You are so good! I just had a few minutes and read your beautiful review about what you sincerely feel is a terrific and important production.

You certainly offer gravitas and aesthetic and socially important perspectives.

Alan

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