A Magical Masterpiece

Monday, March 16, 2015 BRAVOCALIFORNIA!

By Dan Kepl

American composer Joel Feigin has experienced the long march living composers travel in pursuit of second performances. His charming, box office-friendly opera, Twelfth Night, after its chamber version premiere in 2005 at Long Leaf Opera in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, languished nearly 15 years before the composer’s revised score was presented in a partially staged production by the Opera Theatre of DePaul University School of Music in Chicago last November. UC Santa Barbara’s fully staged West Coast premiere of the work on January 30th and February 1st at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall on the California version of the Illyrian coast, gave definitive witness, buttressed by ecstatic audience response, both in Chicago and Santa Barbara, this work has powerful legs.

Feigin’s magical score is key to that exhuberant response. Both sophisticated and playful, it pays subtle quasi-motivic homage to seveal opera composers of the past 300 years, each marinated in a distinctly Feiginesque harmonic sauce. Composed in the neoclassic nomenclature of Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress, with nods to Mozart (pithy vocal ensembles), Richard Strauss (bravura coloratura arias), Wagner (Feigin’s magnificent command of orchestration, especially his intoxicating use of French horn and woodwind riffs), with additional harmonic references to Mendelssohn (the opening chords of the opera), as well as Mahler and Britten, Twelfth Night stretched historic imagination as well as the technical capabilities of UCSB’s young singers and orchestra. Everyone involved clearly revelled in the opportunity.

Having seen both UCSB performances - I was not alone in wanting to experience this glittering masterpiece a second time - there is but one piece of advice to pass along to opera producers around the world: book this fresh and artistically satisfying opera at your earliest opportunity. It’s a sleeper that deserves to be in the repertory of major opera houses.

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