opera review: Crossing

Rod Gilfry as Walt Whitman in Matthew Aucoin's opera Crossing

For the last three years, the American Repertory Theater has been exploring the meaning of the Civil War on its 150th anniversary.  The new opera Crossing  is the final production in this initiative.

Crossing combines the themes of Walt Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry  with a story imagined from his experiences volunteering in the war hospitals near Washington D.C.   It succeeds as stylized meditation on alienation, despair and love; weakened slightly by the implausible of the plot, and to a greater extent by an analytic unreality the opera’s imagination of the problem.  Whitman himself asserted that the interior truth of the war would never be captured.  Nevertheless an underlying truth of his poem “We fathom you not—we love you” is captured well by Crossing.

The staging, dance and direction are straightforward, strong and serve production well.  The stylized makeup and lighting is a little over the top at representing the pain and isolation of the Union soldiers.  Unfortunately, this sets a baseline that results in the vicious deceptive character of Wormly appearing like some ghast from the Walking Dead.  At the same time, I’m unfamiliar with the traditions of opera, perhaps it only seems a bit off to a novice.  This aside, as an opera beginner I enjoyed the production, and has been thinking about it through the weekend, which is all that you can ask of art.

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