Chicago Theatre Review
As History Repeats, Still We Stumble
Third Eye Ensemble – With Blood, With Ink
Third Eye Ensemble continues to highlight the spiritual journey of women with its current production of David Crozier’s operatic dramatization of the life of Juana Inés de la Cruz, a nun, scholar, poet, and champion of women’s rights well before our time, when women dare to hope, often hopelessly, that their humanity will be “protected.”
Beginning with The Medium, and continuing with such repertoire as Sumeida’s Song, and Dark Sisters, Third Eye remains an important force in Chicago’s storefront opera scene, not merely for its championing of contemporary opera, but also for the sense of collaborative authenticity of its onstage, stylistic deportment, for surely only a true acting ensemble can assure the audience that their characters live in the same play, at the same time, and at the same place.
An open-hearted, intensive rehearsal process brings about this sort of natural, organic acting and staging, and the proprietor of this magic is director Rose Freeman, who has helmed all three of the operas that have propelled Third Eye on their dramatic trajectory into Chicago’s artistic life. Musical director Jason Carlson has added greatly to Third Eye’s success, helping to prepare and elucidate very difficult, unknown scores for his performers, and therefore to our city’s opera- and theatre-hungry crowd. Not enough can be said about the work presented by these two artists, and of the energy that Third Eye brings to its mission statement, to,” …inspire conversation while advocating for human rights and social justice.”
In the intimate Prop Thtr, Third Eye has brought its audiences directly to their stories, for the onlookers sit nearly at the tables of the playing area. There is little choice but to engage with the lesson at hand. This setting has thus far been wildly successful for the company.
David Crozier’s score for, With Blood, With Ink is the work of a fledgling composer, and while it contains much Benjamin Britten-beauty, and great Puccini-promise, Crozier’s youthful understanding of the singing voice is on obvious display here. While his compositional palate is consistent, and yet creative at what would, orchestrally, be most exciting, he places the singing voices at the passaggio or above, where it is most difficult for singers to create pure vowels, and to offer sharp consonants in order to give the text clarity.
Librettist Peter M. Krask’s storytelling is overly-long (it should be noted that I refuse to be fan of the 90-minute entertainment, you either have a one-act, or you have a play-and-a-half, and therefore you must allow your audience a break, both for body and for soul), and presents an inestimable challenge to the director in that one of the two major characters is onstage for the entire opera, in a bed, giving only intermediate commentary. Freeman and lighting designer Sarah Collonge manage this as smoothly as possible, particularly given the confines of such a small space.
However, Crozier’s relentless high notes, an overly-occupied staging area, and an overly-written, harrowing tale of a woman struggling for agency which she understands, despite societal strictures, belongs not only specifically to herself but to all of her sisters, presenting her case with intelligence and poetic clarity, and is ultimately robbed of her very self by hateful jealousy, it is, in a single dish, too much. A great deal of the responsibility for this must be laid at the feet of the creators, and not of Third Eye, or of this production.
Sopranos Gisella Milla Adams and Isabel Velázquez as Young, and Dying Juana respectively, sang with great beauty of voice, and embody their characters with wonderful clarity, but were most effected by Crozier’s lack of appropriate tessitura. Rena Ahmed (Sor Andrea), Noah Gartner (Archbishop Seijas), and Angela Born (Maria Luisa) fared far better, each assisted by vocal writing that allowed their finely drawn characters to speak both a musical, and a human language.
Reviewed by Aaron Hunt
Presented on October 22 at Prop Thtr, 3502 N Elston Ave, Chicago
More information about Third Eye Ensemble thirdeyete.com.