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Album review: Stefan Weisman and Anna Rabinowitz, Darkling

Fragmentary testimony and rich themes fuel an elusive new opera.


Stacked with conflicting themes and textured with vocal and string-quartet sequences that smolder or gleam, Darkling is a scuffed, allusive musical palimpsest. A memory quest and a testimonial to broken knowledge, the 85-minute opera grasps at a tapestry of lives left behind when a new wife bolts her marriage northeast of Warsaw, sailing steerage to toil "in a hat factory on Broome Street." Several singers and reciting voices share her role, which gives a glimpse of Darkling's artistic devices, facing the atrocious void then left by German occupation and the Holocaust.

Anna Rabinowitz culled the libretto from her book-length poem; with Stefan Weisman's taut, dexterous score and a bold staging by American Opera Projects, Darkling played to acclaim at the Classic Stage Company in 2006. A lustrous middle register runs from the prologue's cello theme through the singing of mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn, who's performed with City Opera and the Wooster Group. Bass-baritone Mark Uhlemann is forceful in "Salvage of Coats," with Flux Quartet violinist Tom Chiu bowing overtone shards.

Voices hover and parry, set in communal intimacy like radio drama, with Weisman's arias providing both tension and release. Furious recitation distracts at times from furious verse, and crackly announcements as if off worn acetates—"Before technicolor and TV...before Zyklon B," says a jocular one—make ineffective dislocations. Throughout, the opera works tenaciously towards the privilege of awareness, however incomplete. "The mind is its own place," the narrator, Anna, intones, and Darkling is deeply mindful work.

American Opera Projects presents selections from Darkling at Drom 22.

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