In the New York City Opera production, Myra Foster (Lauren Flanigan), is a small-time medium. Under the guidance of her dead son, Arthur (Michael Kepler Meo), she holds séances in her Victorian home. She talks her “Mr. Milk-Toast” of a husband, Bill (Kim Josephson), into abducting the daughter of a businessman and subsequently helping to solve the case, thus gaining fame for her clairvoyant skills. But then Myra begins to see young Adriana (Bailey Grey), almost as a daughter. She decides that rather than taking Adriana from her beloved Arthur, she must murder her so they can be together forever. At the final séance, with the dead girl’s parents present, Adriana’s ghost appears, to finger her murderers, but also to console her grieving mother. “I like it here,” she says of her shallow grave under a moss-covered rock. “Yes, mommy, I am happy.”
Mr. Schwartz’s music is lyrical and haunting, perfect for this piece. It has tones of Bernard Herrmann’s music written for Hitchcock’s films. The orchestrations by Schwartz and William David Brohn help heighten the tension with a lush sound
It is at this point that I have to point out, I am not an aficionado of opera. It is not a medium (you’ll pardon the pun) I know a good deal about. What I can tell you is that the pace of Séance for a Wet Afternoon felt very slow and dragging. It plodded along. I’m not sure who you blame here, Mr. Schwartz the composer or Mr. Schwartz the director (Steven Schwartz’s son Scott Schwartz is the show’s director). I didn’t find Stephen Schwartz’s vocal writing as interesting as his orchestral writing.
Ms. Flanigan as Myra (a role that Mr. Schwartz had in mind for her as he was writing it) is excellent at carrying the character through but I found her singing slightly off pitch a number of times. Mr. Josephson as Myra’s husband Bill sings the role beautifully. You find yourself wondering how could this man have allowed himself to get so drawn into this situation without putting his foot down. Mr. Josephson performance comes across as too together and confident to be portraying a man who has been hen-pecked into submission.
Melody Moore is Rita Clayton and Todd Wilander is Charles Clayton, the parents of the missing girl, both sing their roles beautifully with Ms. Moore giving a particularly strong performance.
The translucent set by Heidi Ettinger also adds to the heightened atmosphere of the piece. The way that lighting designer David Lander has lit the set, the translucent walls allow for the presence of another singer onstage but in a way that is mysterious and spooky. And when any spirit arrives, you see the house glow with purple neon placed inside the walls around the base of the house that light up the walls eerily.
This was an impressive first attempt from Mr. Schwartz as he seeks to push his boundaries.