Stilian Kirov

Northern Exposure: Washington chamber operas entice Oregonians

In Music of Remembrance’s 'After Life,' Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso duel; Vashon Opera's 'Albert Herring' serves up big fun on a small scale.

by ANGELA ALLEN and BRUCE BROWNE

Music of Remembrance’s After Life: Stein and Picasso duel over art and morality

by ANGELA ALLEN

How do art and moral responsibility intersect? Or do they?

That’s the endlessly intriguing debate enacted in the new chamber opera After Life, whose world premier was staged on a Monday in early May in a small-ish recital hall at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall. Two weeks later, After Life played to a sell-out crowd in San Francisco’s Temple El-Manuel.

After Life, complicated by the two-word interpretation of the title implying hungering for life, rather than the dreary afterlife, is a set piece for discussion of the Holocaust. And why not? Music of Remembrance commissioned the opera from rising-star composer Tom Cipullo, whose Glory Denied made Opera News’ top 2014 list. The 17-year-old Seattle-based organization’s mission is to keep the music of the Holocaust alive.

Catherine Cook and Robert Orth in 'After Life.' Photo: Michael Beaton.

Catherine Cook and Robert Orth in ‘After Life.’ Photo: Michael Beaton.

Directed by Erich Parce, the one act, 58-minute chamber opera comes fully alive with Bellingham-born poet David Mason’s elegant libretto and the three singers’ vigorously rendered portrayals of mid-century giants: “rose-is-a-rose-is-a rose” writer Gertrude Stein and short, yet bigger-than-life artist Pablo Picasso. The third character is a nameless teen-aged orphan, who at one time, sold a rose to Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas. She did not survive the Holocaust, though the artists did, and therein lies the drama.

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