Marble City Opera premieres ‘Follow Suit’

Harold DuckettOur Town Arts

Occasionally a ripple of laughter drifted through the audience in the packed Windows on the Park Lounge at the Holiday Inn downtown, during last night’s sold-out performance of Marble City Opera’s world premiere of Griffin Candey and Emily Anderson’s chamber opera “Follow Suit.”

Why much of the humor in the opera went past all of those tuned-in ears may have been partly due to the sense that one was eavesdropping on a private conversation. Also, sung dialogue can sometimes be as difficult to pick up as the details of whispers the uninvited only partly hears.

Soprano Kathryn Frady beautifully sung the role of Jo, a hip bartender, who, at first, mostly listens to her only customer, Hixon, robustly sung by baritone Morgan Smith, who comes into the bar after running away from his wedding.

Images of Edward Hopper’s 1942 painting “Nighthawks” kept popping into my mind, although Hopper’s figures seem much lonelier than Hixon and Jo.

Edward Hopper’s 1942 masterful study in late night loneliness “Nighthawks”

A bean-counting stockbroker, Hixon tells Jo things he probably never told his bride-to-be. He just doesn’t get the whole romance thing. As he pours out just what he is afraid of locking himself into, a fragment from T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” pops up on the wall of the back bar: “Who then devised the torment: Love” as if written by the invisible hand of Jo’s subconscious mind.

It turns out that Jo is Hixon’s counterpart, a run-away bride.

As Jo cleans up the bar, getting ready to close, she and Hixon discover that they have more in common than either of them dreamed a connection to another person could be. Little flashes that love and romance might be not only real, but possible for both of them.

Candey’s music for “Follow Suit,” conducted by himself and performed by pianist Brandon Coffer, clarinetist A. J. Perry and cellist Kathryn York, isn’t so much accompaniment for the opera as it is a kind of acoustical character in the opera, heard but not seen, delivering wordless dialogue.

Its structure is more like a conversation than conventional melody. At moments it underscores the singing in brief instrumental/voice duets. At other moments it anticipates. Sometimes it follows suit, reinforcing statements just made.

Is Jo being a good bartender and only seeming to agree with Hixon, making up details about her own life just so Hixon won’t feel so alone? Is she just “following suit?” Or have similar fates found ways to plug into each other? Maybe the follow up to “Following Suit” will tell.

Founded by Frady, who now serves as its executive artistic director, the mission of Marble City Opera is to cultivate new audiences for opera by presenting innovative performances in unconventional settings that take some of the intimidation and snobbery out of going to the opera.

By attracting a singer of Morgan Smith’s star power to sing alongside her, Frady, through Marble City Opera, is making her own mark.

Marble City Opera’s “Follow Suit” will be performed again tonight (March 10) at 8 p.m. at the Windows on the Park Lounge, Holiday Inn World’s Fair Park Hotel, 525 Henley St. in downtown Knoxville.

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