By Mira J. Spektor; Directed by Lissa Moira
Produced by The After Dinner Opera Company
Off Off Broadway, Opera
Runs through 12.11.16
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue
by Katharine Nedder on 12.2.16
Amanda Yachechak and Bennett Pologe in Lady of the Castle. Photo by Peter Welch.
BOTTOM LINE: A heart-wrenching opera tackling life after the Holocaust.
Lady of the Castle, an exquisite new opera set two years after World War II, follows a couple, Dora and Sand (Darcy Dun and Douglas McDonnell), into a secluded castle where they attempt to take shelter on a stormy night. The castle is owned by the mysterious Count Zabrovsky (Bennett Pologe) who, after a moment of hesitation, invites them inside, where the three begin to compare their Holocaust experiences and their future plans over tea.
Dora and Sand quickly reveal that they have come from Jerusalem in order to discover lost books and lost children from the Holocaust and return them to their homelands. It’s instantly apparent that Dora is the more empathetic in the relationship, while Sand seems to find solace in fixing broken things, as opposed to connecting with broken people. Zabrovsky reveals his quiet heroism, loneliness, and contentment with his seclusion in the forest.
As Zabrovsky, Pologe is appropriately stoic as he recounts his experiences both housing and turning in Nazis, while in contrast Dora (Dun) seems extremely distraught and heartbroken whenever the subject of the Holocaust is breached. This is increasingly apparent through their singing styles. Pologe sounds almost conversational as he touches on topics like Zabrovsky's peculiar dining table setting or his pride in himself. Dun, on the other hand, seems to be continually on the brink of tears leaving the audience wondering about Dora’s pain, her past, and her truth behind her desire to save children. Sand’s obsession with books and his introverted nature allows McDonnell to play him as an effective "straight man" and bring to light the importance of simple material things, such as clocks and books.
Amanada Yachechak is a true standout as Lena, a Jewish girl freshly emerging from hiding after four years. Yachechak’s beautiful soprano voice is the perfect vessel for helping audiences to appreciate the simple smell of spring and the light from the moon, things that are so often taken for granted. Watching and hearing her see the outside world for the first time is surreal, and beautifully acted and orchestrated.
Opera is an ideal medium for discussing something with as much emotional weight as the Holocaust; the anger, fear, and loneliness felt by all characters are effectively captured by Spektor’s music. The story continually twists and turns, adding new characters and plot points sure to keep audiences interested. Even though the exposition at the beginning is on the longer side, it is necessary to set the story; the songs woven throughout this portion are soothing and melodic.
The cast has amazing chemistry and works as a true ensemble, from their acting to their eerily tight harmonies. The set, a small porch area opening into a grand library/dining area, is reminiscent of a fairy tale (complete with secret entrances and exits!) This professional-grade opera transports audiences into a new world on many different levels and is surely a best bet for a unique theater experience.
(Lady of the Castle plays at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, through December 11, 2016. The running time is two hours with an intermission. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8, and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $18 and are available by calling 212-254-1109 or at theaterforthenewcity.net.)
Lady of the Castle is by Mira J. Spektor, based on a play by Lea Goldberg. Directed by Lissa Moira. Music Director is Jesse Lozano. Choreography is by Amanda Yachechak. Set Design is by Lytza R. Colon. Lighting Design is by Alex Bartenieff. Sound Design is by William Giraldo. Additional Music is by Jesse Lozano and Mira J. Spektor.
The cast is Darcy Dunn, Douglas McDonnell, Bennett Pologe, and Amanda Yachechak.