Three Decembers by Urban Arias

Three DecembersThe Alliance’s Live & About group went to see a performance of Three Decembers by Urban Arias at Artisphere on Oct 3.

These are the questions for our post show discussion.  Please add your comments to continue our conversation.

  1. How does Jake Heggie’s music help tell the story?
  2. Why does the revelation about the father become the capping dramatic event and what does it reveal about the adult children?


3 comments on “Three Decembers by Urban Arias”

  1. Julian Hunt

    While I was very impressed by the quality of the music, the performances of the actors, the stage design and found I quickly adjusted to the unusual form, the libretto (the story) was irritatingly predictable, already dated, the ideas it communicated conventional, without revelation… melodrama.

    Regardless, the music as a composition and its performance was commendable, as was the performance of the actors. I hope to see such skill and dedication devoted to a more interesting text.

  2. Melinda

    I agree that the music made me change my mind about opera. I agreed with the comment that it propelled us a long to the conclusion, without pause. I hadn’t appreciated the different styles that you point out above, but upon reflection, that is so true. I agree that the myth about the father was unexpected, but then I thought that the author wanted us to revise our thinking. All along it is the mother who is the dislike “diva”, but through the revelation about the father, she becomes, if not the heroine, at least far more sympathetic, and the children are shown for being rather shallow. They were living on the myth of the perfect father whom they longed for. We don’t know whether she wins the Tony, but arguably she won at life in that kind of way all human beings win. We try to surmount adversity and do the best we can. In my judgment, maybe because I am closer to her age, the children criticized her unfairly. She did care about the death of Charlie’s partner and she did ask Bea about her life and her husband. But both of them had constructed such a story about the awful mother and beloved father that they couldn’t see her reaching out. The music and the intimacy of the theater enabled us to feel the angst of the carriers. I, too, was jarred by the operatic nature right from the start, but then settled into the dynamics of the family and the opera seemed perfectly appropriate.

  3. Susan Galbraith

    As I was not the designated “leader of this discussion,” where our approach usually in post-show discussions encourages the leader only to ask questions of the participants and help support and further a multiplicity of others’ ideas, I feel I can explore a couple of my own responses. I was most struck by the music and the explorative nature of Jake Heggie’s score which moved between and incorporated different styles. There were tinges of Gershwin, sometimes a feeling of a Broadway song, a simple lullaby, and a bluesy number where pitches got “bent.” I especially liked Janice Hall’s delivery of”The Painting We Bought in Milan.” This helped me get over how right at the beginning I felt jolted by hearing such a strong operatic sound, which felt slightly distorted in such an intimate space. The singing most delighted me when the performers moved with ease between a classicly-trained vocal placement and interesting and contemporary colorings, including speaking words or even risking “ugly” sounds for dramatic effect. The emotional colors Robert Wood got from his chamber orchestra — especially of grief and longing — were stunning. This told the story of these highly wounded and somewhat dysfunctional people in a family while lifting the story out of the somewhat soapopera-ish plot.
    The “event,” which is a disclosure about the father, became both somewhat overblown, to my mind, in the responses from the two adult children, and at the same time the opportunity was lost for what might have been the most interesting “unravelling” then of other family secrets and people developing beyond this knowledge. The really big events of the drama, the loss of Charlie’s partner and the betrayal by Bea’s husband, had potentially more “matter in the matter.” As it was, the “climactic event” served to make the children seem more hysterical and petulant than sympathetic.
    The emotional risks the performers took were wonderful at times and showed how opera-in-a-small-space can be mined for maximum emotional sharing with an audience. Michael Mayes pain and fear over his dying partner was palpable. Emily Pulley’s “dressing up” solo exposed the self-loathing of a full-blown alcoholic trying desperately to mask her feelings of parental abandonment then would veer into comic moments of a woman’s vanity searching for the right wardrobe for a special night. Every detail of this song Pulley got just right and allowed us into such moments of intimacy.

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