Pete Morgan & Claire DiVizio in Ile.
Ile, a sung drama in one act
By Ezra Donner, based on the play by Eugene O’ Neill
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
As a person who likes to seek out new and exciting goings on in the Louisville Arts World, I was happy to hear about new kids on the block Thompson Street Opera Company. Due to scheduling conflicts since their introduction to Louisville audiences in 2011 I had been unable to dip my toe into their pool of performances. I finally got my break over the weekend with the performance of Ile by Ezra Donner.
Ironically, as my daughter was enjoying a Broadway show in NYC at the famed O’Neill Theater, I was enjoying Mr. Donner’s libretto adapted from Eugene O’Neill’s play Ile. While this particular one act play is not in constant rotation in drama classes throughout the world, it is an enjoyable piece of work. The story is of Captain David Keeney (Peter Morgan) and his crew aboard the whaling ship Atlantic Queen and his obsessive search to fill his hull with “Ile”, whale oil.
The opera begins with the steward (Preston Orr) and Ben, a workhand (Dustin Stevens) discussing the tempers of the sea and of the men. In their respective recitative interaction they talk of the Captain’s wife Annie (Claire DiVizio) becoming unhinged and the men ready to mutiny. In walks Captain Keeney with his first mate Mr. Slocum (Matthew Peckham) and shoos them away with the threat of being punished. The captain is aware of the talk of the men and discusses with his first mate that there will be no change from the course until the cargo is full, even though Mr. Slocum tries to advocate for the men and their concerns, which of course fall on deaf ears. In the end, Mr. Slocum sides with his Captain and will do what needs to be done should something happen like a mutiny, including using a gun.
Annie comes up to the bow and does her best to persuade her husband to turn the ship towards home as she sings a lovely song reminiscing of the beauty of home in its simplicity of sights, sounds and smells. She actually does convince the salty captain to head home until Mr. Slocum comes with news that the ice had broken and the sailing is set for more prey northward.
The men will not stand for this and Joe, the Harpooner (Andrew Munn) and his crew mates confront the captain with a rush toward mutiny until the captain beats him down and the crew goes back to work. Annie watches in horror and tries one last time to convince her husband otherwise, but he will not, and she then sits at the organ that her husband bought for her and plays it to the end of the scene as we watch her spin into madness.
Musically, the one act opera had some enchanting moments but nothing that really grabbed me hook, line and sinker. All of the singers were of high caliber and were truly finding their footing and grounding themselves in how to approach their roles in both acting and singing, most notably Peter Morgan who really portrayed the captain the way I believe O’Neill wanted him portrayed and his voice was just as suited.
There were many times that lyrics and words were chewed on or swallowed to where I had to imagine what was being sung, with a few of those occurrences happening in Ms. DiVizio’s upper range. Not to say that it was a constant, just occasionally. I have seen Ms. DiVizio a few times and she has a lovely voice and stage presence. I just thought her upper range enunciation was lacking.
The Orchestra, under the baton of Carlos Botero was excitable and attentive for the most part. There was at times a false start in the strings or a lingering brass note, but on the whole a nice sound. But I believe the orchestra was too loud for the cramped quarters of Vault 1031’s performance studio as it was hard for the singers to overcome the volume on more than one occasion.
The minimal stage was perfect for the surroundings of a whale boat and the costumes looked great.
I look forward to more works from this talented group of musicians.
Ile, a sung drama in one act
June 6, 7, 8, 2014
Thompson Street Opera Company
At Vault 1031
1031 South Sixth Street
Louisville, KY 40202