The Decameron Opera Coalition, a collection of different opera companies throughout the United States, has created a unique event, inspired by classic literature and modern necessity. Their Tales from a Safe Distance series is set to release four episodes of two operas each for online viewing throughout this fall, each done by a different company, and recorded in quarantine-safe conditions.
The Roost, produced by DC-area company UrbanArias, is the second opera in episode 2, released October 16, and available for purchase though December. This production, with music by Marc Migo, libretto by John de los Santos, who also directed, and conducted by Robert Wood, is a modern take on Boccaccio’s Decameron, a collection of medieval tales of life during the plague, done with great humor but also powerful depth.
Sharin Apostolou plays Kat, pregnant and riding out the plague with her husband, Ricky (Ryan MacPherson), in her mother’s (Emily Pulley) large home, while her parents stay at their beach house and communicate through FaceTime. It is a hot, steamy summer day, and the air conditioning has stopped working. The opera opens on a close-up of Apostolou in bed, licking her lips, desire evident on her face. She pulls MacPherson into the bedroom and on top of her, playfully singing, “Who said anything about a nap?” She has excellent expressions even through a computer screen reacting to her mother’s statements with a grimace, while replying to her request to come visit to “see the babies and my plants,” “you’re welcome anytime, but you have to wear a mask,” knowing the reaction.
Ryan MacPherson plays Ricky as preoccupied and worried. His is the first voice we hear, asking Apostolou where her father keeps the air conditioning filters. He pulls away from her as she tries to kiss him, singing about his not having a job, or if the repair man would wear a mask. At one point, in frustration, he sings “I’m sick of this,” before following, “not of you.” Eventually, they find an unexpected way to hold each other, singing “On and on, with you,” and “I hope for change”. The last scene finds them in an amusing position, with a duvet sheet cleverly placed around them.
Emily Pulley has great lines as Jaclyn the mother. She complains that “if you step outside without a mask, they fine you!” and has “stopped reading the news.” She also speaks to the perils of isolation when she sings with great melancholy that “even the beach house gets dull when you can’t leave,” and of being “alone…with someone at your side.” She gets the opera’s last word, though, sung with great pleasure.
Marc Migo’s music is powerfully intimate, performed by R. Timothy McReynolds on piano and Evan Solomon on clarinet. Conducted by Robert Wood, they mark the changing mood throughout the piece, from lust to fear to hope and love. John de los Santos’s libretto is charming, modern English with a poetic feel.
Ashley Soliman’s art design turns the house a tastefully decorated set, without overpowering the viewer, as well as giving a lovely visual effect toward the end. The sound by Gordon Nimmo-Smith perfectly balances the music with the singers’ voices, even adding crickets chirping at the end. Tom Rubeck’s editing feels seamless, with one scene blending into the next. The mask by Debbie Munoz creates a funny pun that caps the whole production. John de los Santos does a wonderful job directing, allowing Apostolou and MacPherson to move around the house and each other while singing beautifully. The Roost captures our anxieties about this perilous time while reminding us that the humors and pleasures of life still exist. The Decameron Opera Coalition and Urban Arias have used modern technology to tell an old tale in a fresh manner and allowed audience to watch it across the world. Be sure to catch it!
Running Time: Approximately 15 minutes.