Lev Bely, 26.11.2012 17:41
One-act chamber pastoral opera “Vladimir in Butterfly Country” was staged on November 16th at the Old First Church, San Francisco (US), score by Ann Callaway and Jaime Robles' libretto.
One may guess from the title this is kind of dedication to Vladimir Nabokov well-known not only as a great novelist and ruthless critic who scorched his colleagues of the pen and paper, but also professional entomologist especially keen on butterflies with passion to blues (Lycaenidae family). Incidentally, his first job in the US where he escaped in 1940 from Nazi-occupied France was at the American Museum of Natural History.
Jaime Robles' libretto, which is a modernized version of traditional pastoral, represents a vivid and imaginative narrative describing nature's beauty. It culminates in a moment when butterfly hunter Vladimir (performed by bass Richard Mix) meets a newly emerged butterfly, the rare blue that's performed by soprano Erina Newkirk. Frustrated, he is trying to explain his aspiration to preserve her beauty, the butterfly nevertheless wants nothing but to be free and fly.
The narrative ends with Vladimir's turning into butterfly that flies away with the blue.
The opera is staged by Daniel Labov Dunne who accompanied by Jenny Donohue overtured the performance with reading some of Nabokov's butterfly reflections, not referring his distinctly scholarly writings though.
The very Vladimir's encounter with the blue alludes to the one between the major characters in Nabokov's most argued novel “Lolita”, Humbert Humbert and Lolita. Curious that, as it's said, Nabokov actually might have met that rare blue from Robles' libretto during his entomological journey across America when he was also working on “Lolita” at the time.
Yet the plot line and plentiful, meaningful context might have been developed in many different ways, especially because it's embodied in the opera, the music in “Vladimir in Butterfly Country” appears to be a little bit “toothless” in a way. Occasionally it just refers to brighter “Chansons de Bilitis” with Claude Debussy's two flutes and the soprano in Igor Stravinsky's early opera “The Nightingale”. These associations anyhow arise thanks to the chamber ensemble's well playing: Tod Brody (flute), Carla Wilson (bassoon), Michael Seth Orland (piano) and Callaway herself (percussion).
Photo: Vladimir Nabokov, http://www.examiner.com
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