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‘Amelia’ soars with emotional resonance

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Seattle Opera’s world premiere production of "Amelia" is a feast for the senses.

Created by a collaborative team consisting of composer Daron Aric Hagen, librettist Gardner McFall and director Stephen Wadsworth, the opera is potent and dramatic, with music that soars with emotional resonance.

"Amelia" explores human’s fascination with flight and the powerful bonds that exist between parent and child.

The nonlinear narrative travels back and forth in time, spanning a 30-year period beginning in 1966.

Interwoven within this complex and overly ambitious plot are several storylines that involve one woman’s emotional journey, the American experience in Vietnam and elements of both the Icarus myth and the life of Amelia Earhart, which are used to bring to light the problems that can arise when vehicles of flight are used for discovery, adventure and war.

The overriding theme, however, is that of love, not only familial love, but love of life – a "flight" worth the risk.

At the center of it all is Amelia, a first time mother-to-be, whose psyche was damaged by the loss of her U.S. Navy pilot-father Dodge in Vietnam when she was a young girl.

In order to make peace within herself and break free from the fear and anxiety that threatens to destroy her, her marriage and possibly her unborn child, she must embrace healing and renewal.

Magnificent performances by a large, talented cast bring this compelling story to life with vivid results.

In the central roles of Amelia, Dodge and Amelia’s husband Paul, singers Kate Lindsey, William Burden and Nathan Gunn bring their strong voices and passionate intensity to their roles with notable results.

Ashley Emerson charms as the young Amelia with her sweet, clear voice.

And Jordan Bisch, who does double duty as Daedalus and the anguished father of a young, dying boy, is superb.

Also of special mention are Jennifer Zetlan as the Flier, or Amelia Earhart, and David Won, Karen Vuong and Museop Kim, who each do terrific work in the Vietnam scene.

This is without question the most powerful scene in the opera.

Amelia and her mother, who have received a letter from a Vietnamese couple claiming to know the circumstances of Dodge’s death, travel to Vietnam to meet with the couple in their small village.

Through an interpreter, the couple (singing in Vietnamese) tells the two women that Dodge was shot down and captured by North Vietnamese soldiers, who subsequently kill a young village girl to make Dodge talk.

As the story unfolds, these despicable acts are carried out onstage.

Rounding out the cast is acclaimed soprano Jane Eaglen in the role of Amelia’s wise Aunt Helen.

Hagen’s impassioned score runs the gamut from lyrical and haunting melodies evocative of fantasy and flight to more dissonant and percussive music that emphasizes the harsher and more dramatic elements of the narrative.

McFall’s libretto, though poetic and stirring, is a bit melodramatic. It also attempts to take on too much for one show, leaving viewers with a "bloated" impression. Storylines become jumbled and convoluted, making it challenging at times to keep track of the multi-layered, narrative threads.

And each scene is dominated by ghostly apparitions, flashbacks or dreamlike sequences, which tend to add to this confusion. Wadsworth’s staging deserves high marks, as do Thomas Lynch’s inventive sets and Duane Schuler’s nuanced lighting design.

And the orchestra, under the attentive baton of Gerard Schwarz, does justice to Hagen’s expressive score. "Amelia" is a unique and heartfelt work, and a recognizable achievement of American opera.

"Amelia" runs through May 22. For ticket information: (206) 389-7676 or www.seattleopera.org

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