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A CurtainUp Review
a chamber opera in 2 acts

Nita Baxani (Dora) & Jeffrey Picon (Freud)
Nita Baxani (Dora) & Jeffrey Picon (Freud)
(Photo: Patrick Henaghan)
Freud's analysis of a young hysteric, Dora Bauer, was one of his best-known and frustrating cases. Its details were published under the title A Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905). The dreams recalled in his consulting room revolved around Dora's father offering her as a sexual reward to his mistress' lecherous husband, Herr K. They led Freud to believe that the girl was not only in love with her father, but also Frau and Herr K.

The turn-of-the-century Vienna setting and the mystery about whether Dora's hysteria was based on truth (as Freud at the time believed) or figments of her imagination (the "great secret" that was beginning to dawn on the father of the imperfect science of psychoanalysis) has all the elements of an opera. This potential was evident to librettist Nancy Fales Garrett and composer Melissa Shiflett. After a twelve-year development period, Dora, their two-act opera for nine singers and a chamber orchestra, is currently being given a fully staged world premiere by La MaMa E.T.C. in association with the American Chamber Opera Company.

Like the science opera, Star Messengers (Our Review), last seen and greatly admired in La MaMa's largest space, I came to Dora with high hopes. I could just hear an aria in which Freud sings his famous "What do women want? " -- and indeed tenor Jeffrey Picon (Freud) , along with baritone Peter Clark (Her Bauer) and Peter Lurie (Herr K), turn that query into the opera's liveliest and most lyrical scene, complete with a few Viennese dance steps. Except for this and a lovely ensemble piece, "Will we have a chance to be alone?", the new opera music that prevails is unlikely to win many new converts to the genre. Unfortunately the libretto is often banal -- that is as much of it as you can hear. Operas sung in English are notoriously hard to understand, and in this case, with the exception of Picon and soprano Kathryn Wright (Frau K), the voices aren't powerful enough to rise above the orchestra which, instead of being positioned upstage (this is a deep stage with plenty of room for such positioning), is right next to the main playing area.

As long as I'm quibbling, Picon not only brings the most impressive voice to this performance but has the commanding presence. When he is on stage, which is not often enough, you sit up and take notice. Soprano Nita Baxani's Dora, on the other hand, fails to engage our sympathy for the famous patient who has become something of a heroine Ms. Garrett's direction leaves a lot to be desired. The stage lends itself to having the more expressionistic dream sequences play out upstage, and dividing the front section into the Freud-Bauer-K domiciles, using lighting to facilitate the scene shifts. Instead, couches and beds and other props are noisily and distractingly hauled on and off stage between scenes. It doesn't encourage you to get caught up in the drama at hand.

For all its shortcomings, Dora, is a fascinating endeavor. It is typical of La MaMa's consistent willingness to present hits and misses o, as is the case here, a little bit of both.

Music: Melissa Shiflett
Libretto: Nancy Fales Garrett
Conductor: Douglas Anderson
Cast: Nita Baxani(Dora), Jeffrey Picon (Freud), Kathryn Wright (Frau K), Peter Lurie (Herr K), Peter Clark (Herr Bauer), Johana Arnold (Frau Bauer), Karla Simmons (Anna Freud), Kayla Ny (Zinnie K), Nate Morgan (Heinrich K)
Set Design: John Scheffler
Costume Design: Kate Herman;
Lighting Design: Matthew Staniec
Video/slide projections: Lisa Bloch.
Choreographer: Marcos Dinnerstein.
Running Time: two-hours plus one 15-minute intermission
La MaMa E.T.C. (Annex Theater), 74A East Fourth Street, 212/ 475-7710
(Presented by La MaMa E.T.C. in association with the American Chamber Opera Company)
Th-Sun at 7:30 pm-- $25, box office

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 4th performance.
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