San Diego Opera’s ‘Ghosts’ by Nicolas Reveles Enters Its Own Twilight Zone
Last fall San Diego Opera opened its 2022-2023 season with a world premiere, Gabriela Lena Frank’s La último sueño de Frida y Diego, and on Friday presented another premiere, Nicolas Reveles’ Ghosts, to climax the company’s boldly planned season. Zach Redler’s The Falling and the Rising was originally slated to close the season next month, but the company announced that opera production’s cancellation last week.
When General Director David Bennett gave his usual opening night welcome and introduction from the edge of the Balboa Theatre stage, he explained that Ghosts was not just another new opera, but the work of their late former colleague: until Reveles’ recent retirement he had served as the company’s longtime Director of Education and Outreach
Like Giacomo Puccini’s Il Trittico, Reveles’ Ghosts is a trilogy of three one-act operas, each based on a unique story, although Reveles has included the element of a ghostly intervention in the plot of each of his one-act operas.The monodrama Eden that opens Ghosts is centered on Clay, a flamboyant, compulsive art collector who believes he has finally found the work of art that will complete his extensive collection. Although this character is simply the invention of librettist John de los Santos, the prize painting is actual, an oil depicting a gnarled tree painted by Reveles’ Mexican grandfather, Nicholás Reveles. The painting was on display in the Balboa Theatre lobby and, greatly enlarged, it was also used as part of Tim Wallace’s set design.
Andres Acosta’s ringing tenor gave Clay his necessary flash and bravado, and—unlike too many tenors—Acosta’s lowest range displayed a rich baritonal character that projected well the self-absorbed conversational arioso Reveles wrote for him. Stage director de los Santos had Acosta confidently stride about the stage until the painting worked its black magic on him and brought him down. Acosta’s floor length dressing gown—the sort of attire sported by dashing leading men in posh 1940s’ movies—clearly defined Clay’s comfortable socail station. Faith A. James designed all the costumes for Ghosts.
For Eden as well as the other two one-acts, Reveles employs a string quintet augmented by clarinet, piano and percussion. The composer’s fluid, accessible tonal style favors lithe, transparent textures that always illuminate the drama without overpowering it.
Once Dormir, the second one-act opera, began to unfold, I experienced a strong sense of déjà-vu. Reveles’ melodramatic story about Yadira, an exasperated but dutiful Mexican-born caregiver, and her irascible elderly patient Mr. Costello was originally titled Take Care of Him. (In the printed program, San Diego Opera lists Michael Vegas Mussman as librettist of Take Care of Him, not Dormir!) Reveles presented a concert version of his one-act opera Take Care of Him in La Jolla in 2019, and in that performance, baritone Michael Sokol sang Mr. Costello, as he did Friday at the Balboa. Here is a link to my review of that 2019 La Jolla performance.
Ann McMahon Quintero’s dark mezzo-soprano gave Yadira apt gravitas and easily communicated her disquiet over the strange folk legends of St. John the Baptist Day, on which this opera takes place. Because Sokol’s part is restricted to complaints, accusations, and conspiracy theories, he has no opportunity for graceful bel canto lines, but he used his muscular baritone to emphasize his insistent character.The other necessary character to this slender plot is Yadira’s young adult son Javier, summoned by his mother to come to her aid and permanently relieve her of her difficult patient. Acosta’s characterization of Javier may have been a trifle gang-member stereotypical, but it worked as he efficiently smothered Mr. Costello asleep in his bed. Of course—given the opera’s title—the audience is not surprised that the ghost of Mr. Costello returns to haunt Yadira.
Mezzo-soprano Emily Fons has charmed San Diego Opera audiences in Mozart and Rossini opera productions, and she made a most convincing young mother in the monodrama House. Reveles’ libretto initially paints Fons’ character as a devoted mother who escapes an abusive spouse to give her two young children a safe home environment. Fons’ supple mezzo-soprano easily won the audience’s sympathy—until those Twilight Zone revelations made it clear that she was not only responsible for her husband’s fiery demise, but also the demise of her two children. Tim Wallace’s projection design had the accusing eyes and furrowed brow of the dead husband eerily loom above Fons.
Under the astute direction of San Diego Opera’s Bruce Stasyna, members of the San Diego Symphony gave a winning account of Reveles’ subtly crafted score. Kudos to clarinetist Frank Renk whose abundant, lyrical solos always revealed the emotional subtext of a scene.
San Diego Opera opened Nicolas Reveles’ “Ghosts” on Friday, April 14, 2023, at downtown San Diego’s Balboa Theatre. The production continued at the same venue on April 15 & 16.
Thanks for all the GOOD WORK you have done for the betterment of our CITY and the OPERA!
The CELEBRATION OF the LIFE OF OUR BLEOED REVELES’LOFE WAS BEAUTIFULLY DONE! He is deeply missed by those who knew him….
Love his compositions….. MISSED HIS SMILES………