Opening night of Lewis Spratlan’s Pulitzer Prize winning opera, Life is a Dream, was somewhat of a subdued affair. Unseasonably cold and wet weather loomed, as did a sense of trepidation, in my opinion, as to how the opera would be received. In a world where Nobel Prize Awards, Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, a dizzying array of Music Awards, along with TV Land Awards, People’s Choice Awards, Hispanic TV Awards, BET Awards, Opera News Awards, and “Congratulations, You Learned How To Tie Your Shoes” Awards, have dominated the political, entertainment, and humanitarian landscape for the last 10-15 years; one simply cannot rely on an “award distinction” as providing any kind of a legitimate stamp of credibility. Thus was the case with Life is a Dream.
To be sure, the Santa Fe Opera threw its considerable artistic weight behind this work; providing it, and the audience, with a first rate production and first rate talent to boot. With its sort of “Requiem for Methuselah” setting, one felt as if the world had pressed onward and centuries had passed, and yet time had also stood still in essence, as stories and allegories had yet to be told and revealed. Roger Honeywell received the lion’s share of the vocal nourishment, and dispatched the difficult, high-tessitura role with great aplomb, and in rare moments, a bit of difficulty. His worthy colleagues included James Maddelena, John Cheek, and Keith Jameson most notably.
The problem, however, was the composition itself. Its atonal, jagged, and angular musical structure left little for the listener to grab hold of. A rather weak Act I, (both musically and dramatically) was ameliorated somewhat by a very strong Act II, while Act III walked us backward once again. The fiendishly difficult orchestral AND vocal score kept Leonard Slatkin busy all night, as his head was understandably buried nose first into the score while managing to still give relevant cues to the fine Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. It was clear to me that Mr. Slatkin had truly studied/worked on this score, and it showed, despite the management issues he faced in the pit. (Mastering such a score is a different issue altogether; and is probably not worth Mr. Slatkin’s already heavily scheduled time.)
It is my opinion that this work, whose story reaches back some 400 years in Spanish literary history, will likely not receive much play outside of this summer’s venue; but what a thrill it must have been for Mr. Spratlan, who has been waiting in the wings some 32 years to take a bow that destiny had somehow seemed to promise him. It was thrilling for me as an audience member to witness this; as a man who felt he had something to say, and something to give, finally achieved the moment of which he had surely been dreaming.