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Opera Review: Eastman Opera Theatre’s “Hydrogen Jukebox” 

A successful experiment

Eastman Opera Theatre on Friday presented the second of four performances in Kilbourn Hall of Philip Glass’s music theater work “Hydrogen Jukebox,” featuring the words of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

What transpired was more like a stream of surreal and illusory fragments than anything approaching traditional opera:

An imposing hall, like some forbidden church sanctuary. Tattered and faded American flags -- one colonial and one modern -- flank the room. Company logos emblazoned where stars once were. A fiery and fanged mouth-as-unholy altar. A wheel chart, like some unknown astrology, with competing countries, religions, and ideologies. A pulpit, a lectern, a pit, archways suggesting labyrinths almost Byzantine.

Six people enter to worship but experience personal transformation instead. Hypnotic ritual within hypnotic ritual. Ginsberg’s poetry flies from mouths like snippets of memories, truths, delusions. Singers distill the dense flurry into pure, unrestricted emotion. Glass's music oscillates between soft, quasi-choral prayers and frenetic, percussion-driven salvos.

However different, all characters are in earnest, matching in mood and intensity. The stern yet warmly lyric, resonant tone of bass-baritone Alan Cline; the honeyed, empathetic voice of baritone Jonathan Heller; the piercing, potent clarion of soprano Teresa Perrotta.

A magnetic rapport between singers. An almost orgiastic intimacy. Nearly flawless vocal intonation. Committed, compelling performances by soprano Cassidy Thompson, mezzo-soprano Jessica Newman, and tenor Daniel Lyng. Intriguing, multifaceted scenic design by Mary Griswold. Striking direction from Steven Daigle, an inspired decision to move time in retrograde.

Yet another riveting production from Eastman Opera Theatre. An evocative event best experienced rather than described.

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