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Opera Librettos
Gene Tyburn

Antony & Cleopatra





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Review by Susan Stewart Potter
Presented by the Santa Barbara Music Club, Faulkner Gallery - Santa Barbara Public Library;
Saturday, October 23, 2004; 11, 3 & 5pm

Presented by the Music Club of Santa Barbara, the new opera, "Antony and Cleopatra," was brought to full voice by eight opera singers and a chorus in three minimally-staged performances on Saturday. Written by local librettist Gene Tyburn and composer Gerard Chiusano, it was a work of great promise.

Winner of the John E. Profant Award, the opera's libretto is, blessedly, in English - Albeit Elizabethan English. Based on the Shakespeare play, Tyburn has gone a step further - writing the entire opera in rhyming couplets. The result is appropriately exalted language served by soaring music - a combination that lifts the audience out of the ordinary and into another world.
Michelle Bourque gave a stunning performance as Cleopatra, capturing the beauty and cunning of the Egyptian queen. Gabriel Pazo made a perfect Antony. Graced with a fulsome tenor voice of considerable range, he sung the role with convincing passion and desire. His enunciation was perfection, reeling through the difficult passages with great skill. Their duet of "If You Say You Love Me," was memorable.

Diane Stevenett and Gail Lucas, Cleopatra's ladies in waiting, provided the comic relief, somewhat reminiscent of "The Mikado's" three little maids. But their fine voices applied to "O Come My Love" put the quartet in the realm of the superb. Not surprisingly, this number has received international praise from the wider opera community. It has even attracted the attention of Andrea Bocelli, whose manager believes it would be perfect for him. As Enobarbus, Antony's advisor, Emil Christescu's strong dynamic baritone provided a stunning contrast to Pazo's tenor.

Not all the score comes up to the level of the tuneful duets and arias. Depending on the character, some of the recitatives and accompanying chords have a melodramatic taint. This makes some portions unintentionally comic. Tyburn himself provided the narration. Having at once a delighted-to- be-here, yet serious tone, he demonstrated throughout the genuine love of the story and a deep understanding of the dramatic elements - always a boon to any work.

The final performance on Saturday received a well-deserved standing ovation. It's exciting stuff to be on the birth of a new work, and to see living creators cheering on the performers. Although some of the performances were uneven, every singer was completely invested in their roles. It is apparent that Tyburn and Chiusano know how to attract talent to bring their work to life... a true sign that they will continue to attract an audience.
Opera has been the province of the elite for many years. Not so in the beginning. It was a form of entertainment that attracted the groundlings as well as royalty. May it find its place in the whole of society once again, is Tyburn's goal.

In writing librettos, Tyburn has found the love of his life. His "Iago" is currently being scored by Malcolm J. Hill, the most honored member of the Royal Academy of Music in London. Tyburn and Chiusano have also collaborated on "Macbeth" - a work that has been completed and is now being orchestrated by Chiusano. As humans we crave the new, the unique, a different take on famous stories. So, we can only hope that the impresarios of this world will see the benefit, beauty and promise of bringing new operatic works to the stage for us in our time.