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A CurtainUp Review
Terra Incognita

by Joan Eshkenazi

Terra Incognita, an opera for the theatre, presented by the Intar Hispanic American Arts Center is a highly skilled work creating a tremendous amount of sound in an unusually small space. At a time when most of us think of opera as being presented only at Lincoln Center, ( mistakenly so), it is courageous to bring such a work to a small off-Broadway theatre.

The musical director Stephen Gosling doubles as pianist, and superbly so. The costume designs are in the skillful hands of Willa Kim, winner of Tony Awards for her creations for The Will Rogers Follies and Sophisticated Ladies. The director, Maria Irene Fornes, is a recipient of eight Obie Awards. Ms. Fornes is also the librettist for the music of Roberto Sierra, whose acclaimed orchestral compositions have been performed by leading orchestras of the world. With these talents at work, this ambitious theatre-opera piece deserves to be noticed.

The opera takes place at an outdoor cafe in the port of Palos, Spain at the present time. We see three tourists - Amalia, played by Jennifer Alagna, (a strong soprano); her brother Rob, played by Matthew Perri, (a pleasant tenor); and their friend, Georgia, played by Candace Rodgers-O'Connor, (an engaging soprano). The brother and sister appear as naive Americans anxious to explore the pleasing vistas of the land of their ancestors. The "incognita" or unknown truths of this land and heritage are exposed by the apparitions from the past: The role of Bartolome is sensitively portrayed and delicately sung by tenor John Muriello; Cristobal is a delicious rogue with a rich baritone voice, as performed by Lawrence Craig.

This work is not for the opera lover who wants to be mesmerized by the lyricism of a Puccini, Verdi or Rossini. You will not leave the theatre humming a melody. You might notice, however, hints of Menotti, Mozart, Bartok or Prokofiev. It's a contemporary work that moves us with its pulsating rhythms, textures and colorations.

The characters give us definite messages. As Cristobal reminds us, "People kill for a gadget - they kill just to kill,"-- and, as the the Friar reveals in regard to the treatment of native Americans, Christians slapped them, punched them and beat them with sticks. We are further reminded "In the name of the Lord, they were burnedalive."

The Scenic Designer, Van Santvoord does a lot with a little space. With mountains, trees and road, along with an expressive sky, he is able to transport us deeply into time and space. As incongruous as sunglasses of the moderns are to the robe of the Friar, so are the truths of history to the beliefs that the storybook presents.

The opera is performed without an intermission in the span of ninety minutes; and, in this short time and on this tiny stage oceans of myths and legends are crossed. One wishes there had been a larger stage for those strong voices. Perhaps then the soprano duets would have been better received by me - if only I had someone nearby to lend an ear!

Music by Robert Sierra
Libretto and Direction by Maria Irene Fornes
Cast: Jennifer Alagna, Matthew Perri, Candace Rodgers-O'Connor, John Muriello, Lawrence Craig.
Sets: Van Santvoord
Costumes: Willa Kim
Intar Hispanic American Arts Center 420 W. 42 St. (212) 695-6134.
Opening date 3/26; closing 4/13

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