Opera Review: A Wedding

During the wedding of Muffin Brenner to Dino Corelli, you know that everything is NOT going to go off without a hitch when the ring bearer trips down the aisle, sending the entire wedding party scrambling to find the rings. So begins the outstanding world premiere of A Wedding, currently on stage at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Directed by Robert Altman, it’s an adaptation of his own 1978 film, with a score by William Bolcom. Arnold Weinstein shares credit with Altman on the libretto.

As is typical of many weddings, there’s a lot of drama going on behind the scenes. The groom’s family is old money, North Shore blue bloods who’ve slipped financially and socially. The mother of the groom is a morphine addict, her career-driven sister doesn’t realize her husband is a philanderer, the youngest sister is having an affair with the Caribbean butler, and the matriarch of the family is dying in an upstairs bedroom. The bride’s family, dolled up in pastels and gauzy long dresses, is nouveau-riche Kentucky. Snooks, (the father of the bride) is a born again playboy, the pregnant aunt constantly corrals her five children, Tulip (the mother of the bride) contemplates running away with the groom’s cheating uncle, and the bride’s older sister Buffy (who doesn’t utter a single word all night) is pregnant–and the father is… There’s the drunk best man and only one guest, and he was paid to be there. Circling all this is the control freak “wedding directrix” who keeps them all moving from one event to the next.

The music was good, beginning with the humorously ominous undertones of the wedding procession prologue setting a slightly off-key tone for the entire proceedings. It’s truly an ensemble production, with the score providing each character a solo moment to shine, each demonstrating a slightly different style of music, from Elvis Presley to classic Italian opera. The sets were minimal and cleverly coordinated, with the centerpiece a sweeping staircase which revolved to reveal different rooms in the house. I can safely say this is the first opera I’ve seen that’s set in a ladies’ powder room.

Robert Altman again proves himself as adept at directing actors on the stage as he is for the screen. There are intimate moments and full cast “production numbers” complete with dancing to the generic strains of the on-stage wedding band. My only criticism was that it seemed to drag on a bit past the point where it felt like it should have ended. A minor complaint over all.

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