REVIEW: Boston Lyric Opera’s delivers sleek and searing ‘Fellow Travelers’

It is an affair that is anything but simple.

Buried in an era of high times, unyielding tradition, and a booming economy lay a secret struggle.  From the first few notes of the lingering, lovely, and progressive score which is equal parts bright notes and mounting doom, Boston Lyric Opera’s (BLO) Fellow Travelers is a resplendent journey rooted in the booming 1950s, where two travelers meet on a park bench and their lives are forever changed.

Based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon, Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce’s Fellow Travelers made its Boston debut in a limited, one weekend engagement which concluded with a matinee performance that paid tribute to the late Boston Conservatory President Richard Ortner on Sunday, November 17 at the beautiful Emerson Paramount Center.  Click here for more information about the Boston Lyric Opera and future events.

Boston Lyric Opera Fellow Travelers Office Party Photo by Liza Voll

Michelle Trainor as Miss Lightfoot toasts the Christmas party. Also pictured is David McFerrin as Estonian Frank, Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller, Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson, Brianna J. Robinson as Lucy, and Vincent Turregano as Tommy McIntyre Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Fellow Travelers is a fictional tale rooted in historical events during the Lavender Scare at the center of the nation’s capital.  It frankly explores the rigid outlook on men and women struggling under the harsh light of government and society’s expectations and the desperate lengths they will go to keep up appearances while pursuing their own vision of success.  This well paced production challenges love, faith, and humanity in an age of McCarthyism, communism, behind-the-scenes interrogations, misogyny, and American idealism.

Sara Brown’s symbolic and sweeping set, Liz Printz’s wigs and makeup, Trevor Bowen’s definitive costumes, and Mary Shabatrua’s opaque, emotionally-charged lighting combined to create a perfect vintage setting right out of Mad Men.  From the elegant, shimmering gowns, perfectly coiffed wigs, pearls, and dapper fedoras to the vintage set that included classic typewriters and towering marble columns, Fellow Travelers successfully rewound the clock to the roaring hustle of 1950’s Washington DC.  Vincent Turregano as wiseacre Tommy McIntyre winding a yo-yo was a nice touch.

Boston Lyric Opera Fellow Travelers Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson and Michelle Trainor as Mrs. Lightfoot Photo by Liza Voll

Jesse Darden as Timothy McLaughlin, Chelsea Basler as Mary Johnson, and Michelle Trainor as Miss Lightfoot Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Greg Pierce’s libretto exacts the lingo, expressions, and the camaraderie of its time reflected in this compelling and brilliant cast.  Fellow Travelers follows the immediate attraction between quick-witted and charismatic Hawkins Fuller, portrayed by a suave Jesse Blumberg and timid and naive Catholic intern Timothy Laughlin, depicted with virtuous charm by Jesse Darden.  Baritone Blumberg and Tenor Darden have playful, impressive chemistry as Blumberg affectionately calls Darden “Skippy”  and their scene about Bermuda is a significant highlight.

Exceptional soprano Chelsea Basler breathed the part of compassionate, kind, and well-meaning Mary.  She reflects that sweet nature and performs vocal gymnastics in I Worry That’s All.  It is fascinating to watch her interact with nosy office gossip Miss Lightfoot, portrayed with humor and gusto by Michelle TrainorDavid McFerrin, Simon Dyer, and James Maddalena all seamlessly navigate through their multiple, dynamic and pivotal roles.  With silvery vocals, Brianna J. Robinson is picture perfect as idealistic Lucy, longing for that 1950’s American Dream complete with family, yard, and picket fence.  However, not all dreams are meant to be.

Boston Lyric Opera Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller and Brianne J. Robinson as Lucy Photo courtesy of Liza Voll

Jesse Blumberg as Hawkins Fuller and Brianna J. Robinson as Lucy Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

Fellow Travelers, which followed a successful run of the classic Italian opera Pagliacci, is only part of what Boston Lyric Opera has in store this season.  Click here for BLO’s complete season and follow them on Facebook for all their latest updates.

REVIEW: With author Margaret Atwood in attendance, Boston Lyric Opera creates a twist-filled, haunting ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’

She must have order.

First came the best-selling novel, then the 90s film starring Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth McGovern, Aidan Quinn, Robert Duvall, and Miranda Richardson, then the Hulu series already in Season 3, and now Boston Lyric Opera debuts Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale as an stirring opera with bestselling author Margaret Atwood in attendance on Sunday, May 5.

Boston Lyric Opera The Handmaids Tale May 5-12

Photo courtesy of Boston Lyric Opera

The Handmaid’s Tale has been adapted into different genres and it is not difficult to see why it stands the test of time and holds such relevance in today’s culture.  Yes, it’s harrowing and difficult to watch at times, but it also makes a statement about fanaticism, corruption, and a lack of privacy, serving as a warning to what our world will hopefully never become.  As Caroline Worra, who delivers an incomparable performance as Aunt Lydia, states, “Gilead is within you.”

The blurred lines of justice reign supreme in The Handmaid’s Tale, a meaty, remarkable story seamlessly transformed into an opera through Sunday, May 12 at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a clip of Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

When government has been destroyed, the army takes over and an unrelenting force rules society under the name of the Republic of Gilead.  Offred, portrayed passionately by mezzo-sopranos Jennifer Johnson Cano and Felicia Gavilanes, has been thrust into an oppressed, abusive world where she must face impossible decisions.

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The state-of-the-art Ray Lavietes Basketball Pavilion is an unexpected place to hold this dystopian classic, but the cold, open space and James Schuette’s minimal set bring out the stark, rich color contrasts and adds distinction to each character in a hard, futuristic New England society.  This combination escalates the tension while an incredible score by Poul Ruders, zealously performed by the spectacular Boston Lyric Opera orchestra conducted by David Angus, makes for a chilling and moving experience.

Boston Lyric Opera’s The Handmaid’s Tale features a strong cast, each with their own complicated plight.  With beautiful, soaring vocals, Jennifer Johnson Cano is riveting as Offred, a mother and wife yanked into the Republic of Gilead.  Caroline Worra epitomizes the righteous and vigilant Aunt Lydia, her commanding stature and mesmerizing charisma apparent every time she steps onstage.  Kathryn Skemp Moran offers an empathetic performance as Ofwarren, a woman unable to let go of her past.  With deep, resonant vocals, David Cushing is convincing as the multi-faceted Commander who delivers a few surprises of his own along the way.

The Handmaids Tale Jennifer Johnson Cano as Offred and David Cushing as Commander

In the Commander’s office (David Cushing), Offred (Jennifer Johnson Cano) reads aloud from a beauty magazine published in the Time Before in Boston Lyric Opera’s production of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” running through May 12. BLO.org Photo courtesy of Liza Voll/Boston Lyric Opera

The Boston Lyric Opera seamlessly translates Margaret Atwood’s twist-filled dystopian classic, The Handmaid’s Tale, into an opera for four performances only at Harvard University’s Ray Lavietes Pavilion through Sunday, May 12.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow Boston Lyric Opera on Facebook for upcoming events and more.