Risk-taking, rich singing mark BOC’s ‘Opera Bites’

CAMBRIDGE — One problem with opera is that the plot can seem sketchy and take forever to unfold. Even if that's not the case, the stage director can ruin the production with some hare-brained concept. None of that applies to an evening of 10-minute operas. There are no concepts and barely any sets. And no longueurs: The eight selections of "Opera Bites," which Boston Opera Collaborative presented at Longy School's Pickman Hall on Saturday, flew by before you had time to look at your watch.

Ten-minute operas also encourage risk-taking. Who would essay a full-length work based on "I Love Lucy"? But in "Again," with music by Jake Heggie and libretto by David Patrick Stearns, Lucy (Carley DeFranco), Ricky (Fran Rogers), Fred (Elijah Blaisdell), and Ethel (Krista Marie Laskowski) are back, stuck in an endless loop of lucrative black and white reruns, complete with the Ricardos' living room on the video screen. Black is also the color of Lucy's eye, since the opera takes off from the TV episode where Ricky accidentally gives his wife a shiner.


The program's highlights were "Tempo fuori del tempo" and "The Sacred Wood." "Tempo fuori del tempo" (music: Anne Dinsmore Phillips; libretto: Marilynn Scott Murphy) starts out at an airport. She (Shannon Grace) is flying to Rome because she wants to turn 30 in Italy; he (Rogers), singing in over-the-top Italian, makes the grand announcement that he's returning to Santa Margherita, near Genoa. The opera's title means "time out of time," and at one point the couple sing, "Eternity filled the room." But the magic is sweetly tempered with the comedy of their half-Italian, half-English interaction.

In Richard Burke's "The Sacred Wood," two New Yorkers run into each other at the Oracle of Dodona in Greece. She (Rhaea D'Aliesio) is looking for advice about her boyfriend back home; he (Dustin Damonte) is trying to follow up their meeting at a cafe in Athens. When they put the question of their maybe relationship to the oracle, they get an unexpected answer, but Burke has one more twist up his sleeve.


The rest of "Opera Bites" was more serious, occasionally to a fault. In "Come to Spain" (music: Ben Bierman; libretto: Earl Shuman), two tourists (Damonte and Allison Provaire) fly to Spain. He discovers his inner matador and proposes during a bullfight; she's pleased but also attracted to an actual matador (Scott Ballantine). In "Camera Obscura" (music by Jonathan Sheffer; based on a play by Robert Patrick), Mark Williams and Megan Welker have five minutes to hook up over the Internet and waste it trying to talk at the same time. When their frustrating time is up, they're replaced by the dating-service operators (Blaisdell and D'Aliesio), who seem poised to make a better connection.

Marjorie Merryman's "Wilde Epigrams," where DeFranco and Williams play a married couple throwing Oscar Wilde at each other, should be funnier, but the epigrams lose their timing when sung, though the muffin sequence from "The Importance of Being Earnest" works well enough. "The Act" (music: Lori Laitman; libretto: H.L. Hix) is dead serious, with Michael Merullo as a knife thrower and Grace as his target, a woman who was forced to marry him when they were both 13. If he continues to miss her, he says ominously, it's because "for me she is never there." The closer, Mark Adamo's "Avow," looks at wedding-day jitters; Laskowski's bride and Merullo's groom are stuck with cliches, but Welker's mother of the bride is a hoot.


None of the music, unfortunately, was very memorable, but it was well played by a team of pianists and well sung, and the supertitles are clear. And the second half of the program begins with a bonus: D'Aliesio singing "Taylor the Latte Boy." That could be the setup for its own 10-minute opera.

Opera Bites

Presented by Boston Opera Collaborative at Longy School, Pickman Hall, Cambridge. Saturday. www.bostonoperacollaborative.org

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz