Hip Shot: A Fire in Water
Lang – Atlas Performing Arts Center
Tuesday, July 15, 6:15 p.m.
Sunday, July 20, 4:45 p.m.
Wednesday, July 23, 6:15 p.m.
Saturday, July 26, noon
They say: Two goddesses try to protect their sons from all harm, but their sons' love for their companions makes them vulnerable – makes them human, allowing them to break like snapped twigs, like fingernails, like hearts.
Camila's Take: Opera is famous for its oversized trappings: full orchestras, massive companies, vast sets. A Fire In Water, meanwhile, has five musicians, a seven-person cast, and a set that consists of a few chairs and a couple of bowls of water. But this chamber opera has arena-sized ambitions.
The themes are huge: love, war, mortality, the passage of time, the limits of power. The plot spans centuries, framed by two gal-pal goddesses: Thetis watches over her son Achilles and his lover Patroclus, and Artemis, who has been enchanted by Alexander the Great since his birth, tries to protect her ward and his companion Hephaestion.
Achilles' story is more compelling than Alexander's, in no small part because of the convincing physical affection between Andrew Sauvageau as the hero and Kyle McGruther as Patroclus. But the goddesses, as they weave the two tales together with their twinned hopes and despairs, are well-matched. Meanwhile, an ethereal chorus keeps reminding us that "there is nothing alive more agonized than man,” and the men strive to prove it.
The singers fill the space so surely that the company never feels small, their volumes meshing perfectly with the excellent chamber musicians. The goddesses stun when they soar and the demigod-heroes wring every drop of drama from their arias. The human lovers, on the other hand, don't sing—an anomaly for opera and an effective metaphor for a lack of divinity. Heck, next to an opera singer, who doesn't feel more merely mortal than usual?
When the goddesses and their sons are at their most human, their voices, too, stumble from diva-dom down to the cadence of speech. Sauvageau is particularly impressive at that pivot, with a voice that falls from beautiful to broken in a painful heartbeat.
Above all, this piece has something that's hardly promised from Fringe performances: polish. The performances are sharp. The libretto and the score are built of painstaking echoes and pairings. And while the simple set doesn't see a lot of movement, each individual tableau is carefully composed into a slow-motion, geometric shift.
In short, this opera aims for a high note—and hits it.
See it if: You're down with metaphors, symbolic water-mixing, and mythological heartbreak.
Skip it if: You're looking for laughs or something with sword-fighting. Or if you hate opera, you philistine.