Three Way: A Trio of One-Act Operas
2017 / American Modern Recordings
Review by Kathy Parsons
I have to admit that I have never reviewed an opera recording before, and if the music hadn’t been composed by Robert Paterson, I most likely wouldn’t have reviewed this one either. I love classical music, but have never been a fan of opera. Love the music, but not the singing. Before you click off, let me say that Three Way: A Trio of One-Act Operas has changed my perception of contemporary opera. The music is accessible, there is a lot of humor as well as deep emotion expressed, and it serves as a poignant social commentary. Three Way explores our ever-growing dependence on electronics while disconnecting from the people around us as well as the search for greater stimulation and ever-bigger thrills. That’s a lot to pack into three short operas, but Robert Paterson and librettist David Cote have done a magnificent job.
This two-disc set of Three Way is the original cast recording performed by Nashville Opera and conducted by Dean Williamson. The package also includes a wonderful 64-page booklet with photos, bios, interviews, the libretto and more. One of the things I really appreciate about this recording is that the vocals are very clear, making it easy to understand most of the lyrics. You can always refer to the libretto, but you probably won’t need to in order to “follow the action.”
Three Way had is world premiere on January 27, 2017 and the New York premiere was the following June at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The story-lines of all three operas involve sex and relationships, but not for shock value. Sex will certainly get most people’s attention, but the theme was chosen for its endless range of emotions. Although there are many very funny moments in each segment, they also have moments of very strong emotional intensity as the characters explore and question what it is that they really want or need.
Act I: “The Companion” is set in the not-too-distant future and is about a busy career woman who has had a series of unfulfilling relationships. She buys an android named Joe that is programmed to be her ideal man. He keeps her house clean, cooks her favorite meals, and keeps her happy in the bedroom. Everything is great until Maya starts becoming bored with the lack of emotional attachment. She has a tech come and do upgrades on Joe, but then he becomes all too human which is even more upsetting. Is there ever the perfect partner?
Act II: “Safe Word” takes place in the dungeon of a dominatrix who is “servicing” a businessman client for the first time. This piece has some fascinating plot twists that come as a real surprise while raising the question of who is really the client and who is the provider. Again, there are some very funny moments, but the emotions expressed are very real and very deep.
Act III: “Masquerade” takes place at a partner-swapping encounter hosted by “Pleasure Pilgrims” leaders in their home. There are many humorous moments, but one by one, the participants express their fears, insecurities, and failings. On the surface, they all seem happy with the partners they arrived with, so why do they feel a need to “swap”? No answers are given, but the characters reveal a big part of themselves in musical soliloquies.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Three Way and have a very big appreciation for this opera. The recording is available from American Modern Recordings, Amazon, and iTunes. Very highly recommended!
January 26, 2018
with American Modern Ensemble
with Blair McMillen