Danielle Connelly, Mimi Melisa Bonetti, Joe Shadday, Joseph Flaxman & Natasha Lynn Foley
in A Woman In Morocco. Photo-KY Opera.


A Woman In Morocco

By Daron Hagen and Barbara Grecki
Conducted by Roger Zahab

Review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved

Sometimes minimalism works very well in the Opera World. Such can be said of the Kentucky Opera’s final production of the 2014-15 season, Daron Hagen’s A Woman in Morocco. In a departure from the spacious Smilie Thompson Stage at The Brown Theatre, the company is using the intimate Victor Jory Theatre at the venerable Actors Theatre of Louisville. And if that wasn’t minimalistic enough for you, how about 10 instrumentalists?

Woman is based upon the play of the same name by Barbara Grecki. The lyrical opera delves into a dark side of life in Morocco, which unfortunately still permeates other areas of our modern world: human trafficking.

The opera, set in 1950’s Morocco, at the Cypress Hotel, a rundown sort of place owned by British ex-patriate Teddy (Joe Flaxman) with his assistant/lover Ahmed (Joe Shadday). Within the first few moments of the opening scene we see money exchanging hands and then a woman being dragged away.

But enter bright eyed and young Lizzy (Danielle Messina) who introduces herself as a travel writer there to write a piece titled A Woman in Morocco. As Ahmed places Lizzy’s belongings in the sparsely furnished room he cautions her that life there is very dangerous with very little protection. She’s not easily scared and finds herself attracted to the handsome Tunisian. A pass is made and a fire ignites between them.

As the evening comes to a close the hotel’s maid Asilah (Erin Bryan) comes in to turn down Lizzy’s bed. Soon the women strike up a conversation and a friendship based upon Asilah’s wish to learn English. A few days later while shopping Lizzy is witness to the murder of Habiba (Natasha Foley), whereupon Asilah tries to convince her to change her original storyline and instead tell the truth about Habiba and her life.

Soon Teddy learns that Lizzy is teaching Asilah English and then proceeds to tell her that she is actually Ahmed’s wife. Despite this knowledge they still continue their affair while Lizzy continues into a downward spiral, fueled by sex and drugs.

While in the courtyard, Teddy professes his love for Ahmed and promises to take care of Asilah and her unborn child by sending her away to a safer place whereupon screams are heard and Lizzy returns with blood soaked clothing and in a state of despair.

Lizzy’s sister Claire (Melisa Bonetti) soon arrives at the Cypress with smarmy businessman Harry (Brent Smith). Upon meeting with Ahmed and Teddy she informs them that she is there looking for her sister, to which they insist that she left the hotel months before. Harry on the other hand is looking for Asilah, to continue their previous relationship.

Upon learning that Asilah was carrying Harry’s child, a fight ensues, and that’s where I’m going to leave you.

The use of a small orchestra and theater suits this opera very well. It is intimate and grimy and makes one feel as if you are a part of the action. Now, on the flip side, as an opera singer, we are usually conditioned and trained to be able to sing to the back of the house that could be what seems like a football field away and sing over a full orchestra too. The problem that many of the artists were having, including instrumentalists, at least to my ear, is a few were still performing in that style. In this setting, less is more. All too often, when a vocalist was singing with full gusto, lyrics became muddled and garbled. Also, many times the orchestra overpowered the vocalists, even when everyone on stage was singing.

The talent within this pool of performers is great. Soprano Danielle Messina’s top lines are clear and confident, while Erin Bryant’s mezzo provides beautiful tonality. Although I’m not keen on using falsetto too often, Mr. Flaxman’s was spot on and added to the scene at hand. Joe Shadday’s Ahmed was played with a sense of mystery about him and was delightful.

Within the opera there is a set of ladies, dressed in a customary black jeleba that serve as a chorus as well as the aforementioned mistreated women of Morocco. Within these chorus vocal lines are some of the most hauntingly lovely harmonies that I’ve heard.

There is a prop used that I thought didn’t need to be, such as when the radio is turned on a few times and the sounds from the broadcast and the orchestra overlapping caused a disruptive, cacophony of sound. Perhaps that was intentional.

Despite some palpable nervousness, A Woman in Morocco is an enjoyable piece with a serious social overtone. Thank you for your bravery in producing it.

Bravo Tutti.

A Woman In Morocco

May 15 @ 8:00pm
May 17 @ 2:00pm

Kentucky Opera
Victor Jory Theatre
At Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202


Annette Skaggs[box_light]Annette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.[/box_light]