Your Daughter Fanny is a 45 minute long chamber opera with music by Alice Ho and libretto by Lisa Moore based on letters written by WW1 Newfoundland VAD nurse Frances Cluett (which can also be found in book form). It was performed yesterday at Heliconian Hall by soprano Caroline Schiller with Duo Concertante, Nancy Dahn (violin) and Timothy Steeves (piano).
I really liked the music. It was the first time I’ve heard a piece by Alice Ho that didn’t include traditional Chinese elements and it was stylistically interesting; rich textured, sometimes astringent, sometimes very lyrical with a very decent, singable vocal line.
The libretto I’m not so sure about. It was a mix of spoken dialogue and aria and the sung parts could have used surtitles. I caught most of it (with some effort) and I’m just not convinced it made the most of the material. Somehow the small town personal touches and the big picture don’t quite come together. There’s no real sense of progression from discussing hat design in Belleoram, Newfoundland to the slaughter at Beaumont Hamel to the anti-climax(?) of the end of the war. Maybe reading the letters would give needed context?
The presentation was apt in the context of Heliconian. Ms. Schiller was in costume, though singing most of the time from a music stand, and there were projections above the stage area. Some of these were of the letters, some of WW1 scenes. Evocative enough.
The performances were very good. Alice Ho doesn’t write “easy” music and both instrumentalists were worked hard. Caroline Schiller sounded good too and did a pretty decent job of projecting the text over accompaniment about as dense as piano and violin can be. But it’s a small, resonant hall and the dense textures and forceful performances felt too big for it. I suspect in a smaller space it would have sounded more spacious and the text would have been easier to follow. Worthwhile programming by TSMF and a piece I’m glad I caught though.