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The Hunchback Variations: A Chamber Opera
Although Beethoven has announced that they are both deaf, they can hear perfectly. Apparently being deaf is no impediment when youíre dead or fictional, or, in the case of Quasimodo, both.
The two disparate characters sit at a meeting table supplied with microphones and water. Two musicians, also on stage, play piano and cello. Quasimodo takes a few old instruments, contraptions, and toys from two beat up satchels. Over the course of the presentation he contributes several sounds for consideration. Each sound receives the same pronouncement from Beethoven: "That is not the sound." Much to the annoyance of Quasimodo, his co-investigator whose brain he declares can spit sparks, has contributed only one sound to their impossible task, and itís an unsuitable anachronistic one at that.
The unusual musical accompaniment provided by the highly skilled duo of Christopher Sargent ( piano) and Paul Ghica (cello) works independently and also merges tightly with the complementary voices of George Andrew Wolff (tenor) as Beethoven and Larry Adams (bass) as Quasimodo. The excellent actor/singers and musicians are from Chicagoís Theater Oobleck.
This closet opera rewards patience. Not so much a must-see for the traditional Mamma Mia crowd, The Hunchback Variations might be aimed at imaginative obsessive-compulsives who can appreciate its nuanced incremental attempts to express the inexpressible. The collaborators traverse the same terrain through 11 variations, adding nuance and slipping from energy to entropy and back. Quasimodo says he memorizes his sorrows. Beethoven fears that his achievements are perhaps eclipsed by the terrifying absence provided by his failure to produce the sound Chekhov describes. Yet their construct sheds little beams of light in on itself, seeming to move them through Nihilism to a sort of warm pre-existentialism. The music, often sonorous and at times quirkily disconnected, briefly becomes a haunting tune at the close, as Beethoven and Quasimodo reflect back and might be attempting to express what, other than failure, they have gained during their exploration. Quite a conjecture. In its way, itís sublime.
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