Shining Brow

“One doesn’t go to Urban Arias expecting masterpieces. The whole adventure is about sharing in Founder and Artistic Director Robert Wood’s risk-taking in mounting new or almost new operatic works. The shows selected are always smart and (blessedly) short. The production values are always good, as they are here in Shining Brow. There are high-caliber singers, and the instrumentalists and conducting are outstanding.”

This from Susan Galbraith’s review on DC TheatreScene.

Go to their website to see the full review.  LINK

But first, here are some questions to puzzle through with each other. Please respond to any of these and add other thoughts you’ve had.

  • Why is the theater filled with smoke and soot-marked eyes from the beginning? Do these things relate to the central idea of the opera?
  • What do the several lists in the libretti mean and how do they serve the work? (19th-century poets, American trees, Native American tribes)
  •  Frank Lloyd Wright sings that he holds himself above the rules of ordinary men, so then what are we meant to make of his final aria at the end? What does his last line signify, “So much, so much, so…?”

6 comments on “Shining Brow”

  1. Catherine Lincoln

    Once again Urban Arias has presented a unique modern opera with a compelling story. The music was challenging but approachable and beautifully sung. The libretto is densely allusive, but catches the idea of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas for a prairie school, referencing Indians, trees, birds, and the undulating mid-Western landscape. Congratulations to Robert Wood and his team!

  2. Michael Feldman

    Outstanding and evocative set in a small space. And outstanding singing illuminated the citations from Strauss that helped place the scenes in the opera in time and space.

  3. Susan Galbraith

    Thanks so much to those of you who shared your responses. I gleaned more and more from the opera by your input and as I further reflected.

    I was able to see the opera more than once. As I predicted, on the second evening I not only understood a great deal more of the text despite the fine diction, but the singers had settled in more giving us a clearer, more satisfying experience. This reminds me of the risky and courageous ride of opening night for singers and for audience. It also is good to be reminded that serious works of music-theatre need the audience to develop well-tuned ears, usually only gained through multiple hearings. The melodic writing of Daron Hagen came into greater focus for me over time spent with the work.

  4. Ari Jacobson

    The constant reference to great heroes and myths of the past seemed to be a part of Wright’s sense of himself as connected to a chain of great men. Unlike normal mortals bound to the morals and mores of their own time, he considered himself a special case, a historic genius who would be judged by history for the greatness of his works rather than by his contemporaries for his behavior towards them. Sitting from our privileged position in the future, distasteful as it might be to say, it’s hard to deny that he was at least partly correct!

  5. Victoria Brademan

    Interesting production and subject matter. (Full disclosure: I was 4 minutes late because parking is so scarce near the theatre, but they wouldn’t admit latecomers until 20 minutes into the 90 minute production. I think the theatre should do better than that.) I missed the beginning that set up the plot and Wright’s relationship to the other characters, including presumably the start of his affair with Mamah. I too didn’t realize it was supposed to be dreamlike. Mid-way through, due to clever staging, the audience witnesses the fire starting which eventually destroys Taliesen, but it was much later that a character shows up with a telegram announcing that Talieson is a total loss and that Mamah is dead. Not sure what we were supposed to think about why there was a fire dead center on the stage before the telegram arrives. I wasn’t familiar with the entire story, but learned in the talkback that the fire was arson & murder (unrelated to Wright) & that several others, including Mamah’s two children, were killed. I guess those gory details were omitted because they would (should) overwhelm even the most narcissistic among us and would distract us from the underlying story about Wright’s pushing on and persisting in his path nonetheless. The lists provide interesting context for the historical era and what perhaps influenced or inspiried Wright in his work, but the relevance of some of them wasn’t entirely clear.

  6. Marcia Feuerstein

    The smoke/soot established a dream-like atmosphere that we become part of presaging the fire/murder as well as the sense that the performance would be non-linear / dream-like — its content FLW’s memories (which I didn’t realized until the talkback (Sunday matinee) . The lists identify and define various terms, people, places referenced by FLW (and Sullivan) throughout the performance that might be foreign or unknown to the audience. Besides being a great list, the word lists reveal Wright’s influential touchstones and provide us with insight to the ideas/precedents/interests of designers, especially those following transcendentalism, during FLW’s time. Not sure about the final aria … seemed to be a cry of overwhelming loss, confusion, so much lost? so much to do? a narcissistic anguish of back and forth with a struggle to regain his commitment to his vision to keep going, which is what he did.

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