Lysistrata, a.k.a. The Nude Goddess, was first performed, to acclaim, in Houston last March. On Tuesday, this sentimental variation on Aristophanes arrived at Lincoln Center, evoking – in one observer, at least – considerable disappointment.
Mark Adamo seems to have written two operas, both of them simplistic and indulgent. The first resembles a cutesy-chatty comedy in which characters mouth a puerile doggerel that makes “trespass” rhyme with “jackass”. We know this thanks to the distracting surtitles: little is understood without them. The plot rambles fatuously as it retells the tale of wise women who will not make love if their men make war. The tone turns sombre in the second instalment as the composer, who serves as his own awkward librettist, explores the painful futility of it all. Political implications are slighted in both halves.
The Athenian heroine and her followers emerge chronically smart yet ultimately vulnerable. Their Spartan counterparts become twits who introduce an odd baby-talk as they lisp about such profundities as “ze pwomise of peaze”. The verbal device makes one want to fwow up.
Meanwhile in the pit, a lot of rumbling and grumbling is set off by sound-effects with cartoon embellishment. Wrong-note modernism gives way to neo-romantic cliché in arias with applaud-now cadences. Adamo is crafty: no doubt about it. Too bad he is prone to musical water- treading.
A strong ensemble, led by Emily Pulley, Chad Shelton, Jennifer Rivera, Myrna Paris and Victoria Livengood, works like Trojans. George Manahan conducts urgently. Michael Kahn directs traffic picturesquely. Murrell Horton provides quasi- period costumes that revel in phallic sight-gags. Derek McLane, the designer, depicts a contemporary Acropolis in ruins, even though the action takes place in pristine antiquity.
Early in this misadventure Adamo stoops to raunchy banality. Someone actually sings “Wham! Bang! Thank you, Ma’am.” Thud. When the time at last arrives for a portentous benediction, he resorts to three little words: “So be it.” Slurp. ★★☆☆☆
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