Wilmington Concert Opera
Composer Sarah Van Sciver and librettist Kirsten C. Kunkle have created a stirring, intriguing concert opera about six prominent women of the French Revolution, whose Girondin party aimed to curtail the spiraling violence spurred by the more radical Montagnards. (One of the more notable Girondins was American revolutionary Thomas Paine.)
Kunkle addresses the imposing morass of French politics by approaching at an intimate level, beginning with the good possibility that these six women conferred with each other on a regular basis. Van Sciver delivers these meetings with propulsive piano parts that convey the tension and terror in the Paris streets, while the addition of cello and violin add the feel of an 18th century salon. Especially in the early pieces, she works these meetings into conversational fugues, imbued with fascinating layers, harmonics and rhythms.
The primary subject of these discussions is Charlotte Corday, whose behavior since the Montagnards’ 1792 September Massacres has become more and more erratic. In her recounting of those killings, Corday reveals her plan to murder Jean-Paul Marat, the Montagards’ leader. Librettist Kunkle sings the piece herself, deploying a powerful soprano and a great sense for emotion and dynamics. Two of the top notes are so forceful and exposed that they will stop the listener cold.
Corday did murder Marat (“I will kill one man to save one hundred thousand,” she said.) She was executed for it, and the act itself was immortalized in David’s famed painting, Death of Marat. The repercussions of this desperate move fuels much of the opera.
Other intriguing pieces in the work are “My Dear Marie-Antoinette,” a musing by the queen’s favorite portraitist, Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun (sung by Tracy Sturgis), and “Bonaparte,” a comic jab at Napoleon by writer Madame De Stael, sung with great wit and enunciation by Raffaella Lo Castro.
Girondines is captivating enough as a musical creation, but it has the additional quality of making the listener want to re-examine the Revolution. It’s a remarkable and stimulating creation.
Girondines is available on several platforms, including Amazon Music, iTunes, Spotify and YouTube.
Michael J. Vaughn is a 35-year opera critic and author of 28 novels, including Operaville and Gabriella’s Voice, available at Amazon.
Aux barricades! Nice review, great little opera that will go big places.
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