Based on a poem by Anna Rabinowitz. Dir. Michael Comlish. Music by Stefan Weisman. With ensemble cast. East 13th Street Theater (see Off Broadway).

FACE THE MUSIC The chorus tunefully commemorates the dead.

FACE THE MUSIC The chorus tunefully commemorates the dead.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

An unlikely collaboration of Wagner, Sally Bowles and Steven Spielberg could have spawned Darkling, a Holocaust chamber opera with satirical cabaret touches. Based on the 2001 poem by Anna Rabinowitz, the multimedia work follows fragmented memories of a Jewish family before and during World War II. Letters and photographs pertaining to the relatives of Rabinowitz’s father illustrate the severed bond between those who escaped to America and those who remained behind. The author constructedher verse as an acrostic to Thomas Hardy’s mournful poem “The Darkling Thrush,” which is colorfully set to music for the final song and grafted onto measures in the rest of Stefan Weisman’s expressionistic score. The irony of a Holocaust piece sung operatically in English, in all of its Germanic affectation, is hard to ignore, especially when combined with a keening string quartet perched above the main stage.

A translucent scrim encloses a black box, separating the audience from the actors, whose impassioned performances make up for small voices ranging from soprano to bass-baritone. Prerecorded parlando, or operatic speech, mingles with live singing, subtitles and projected film to create a sense of chaos, helplessness and anomie. Director Michael Comlish steers his inventive production with a blend of Brechtian verfremdungs-effekt (“alienation effect”) and abstract, dancerly movement. Although Darkling’s vocalists may not match the powerhouse prima donnas of the Met, opera snobs and novices alike won’t regret wandering downtown for more-daring fare.—Lisa Quintela