Thursday, April 2, 2020

Watch Party Scheduled for new Benavides Opera

Composer Nicolas Lell Benavides and librettist Marella Martin Koch have arranged a “watch party in cyberspace” to showcase their first collaboration of an opera. “Pepito,” described as a “comedic opera in one act,” was commissioned by the Washington National Opera through its American Opera Initiative, providing sponsorship for new repertoire. Through that initiative Benavides and Martin Koch were first introduced; and “Pepito” was the first opera to emerge from their partnership. (Those that attended this year’s Snapshot program presented by West Edge Opera had the chance to see subsequent results from Benavides and Martin Koch with the showcasing of excerpts from Gilberto.)

The title character of “Pepito” is a shelter dog; and the libretto is basically a narrative of adoption. Camila and David are visiting an animal shelter while going through a difficult period in their marriage. Camila is drawn to Pepito through his fluency in Spanish (an amusing instance of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s suspension of disbelief). However, Angie, the shelter manager, is strict about screening anyone interested in adoption; and David is not as enthusiastic as Camila. Nevertheless (spoiler alert) all turns out well; and Pepito finally gets adopted.

Vocalists Alexandra Christoforakis Dixon, Samuel Weiser, Alexandra Nowakowski, and Joshua Blue (courtesy of Nicolas Lell Benavides)

“Pepito” was given its premiere by the Washington National Opera. Pepito was sung by bass Samuel Weiser. The roles of Camila and David were taken by soprano Alexandra Nowakowski and tenor Joshua Blue, and mezzo Alexandra Christoforakis Dixon sang the role of the shelter manager. Following the premiere, Benavides arranged for a recording session with those vocalists. This took place at the Alice and Elenore Schoenfeld Symphonic Hall at the University of Southern California. Filmmaker Maggie Beidelman made a video document of that recording session, working with audio engineer Zach Miley. The performance was conducted by Benavides.

Even without costumes (shown in the above photograph), this studio performance is a convincing one. Some may be concerned about the lack of titles. However, Benavides’ understanding of diction almost always prevails in such a way that one has little trouble following the overall narrative. In addition, Beidelman’s camera work is as attentive to the musicians as it is to the vocalists, allowing the viewer to appreciate the imaginative approaches to instrumentation that enhance the rhetoric of the narrative.

The watch party for Beidelman’s video document will take place this Friday, April 3 (tomorrow), at 6 p.m. (Pacific time). The stream will be launched the Benavides’ official artist page on Facebook. That will link through a Facebook event page. This will also serve to preview the release of the album based on the recording session. That digital album will be available for pre-order from a bandcamp product page.