Regional Reviews: Phoenix
As in the novel, the plot of Frankenstein centers on the tragic plight of the Creature, a grotesque but perceptive being brought to life by the brilliant and ambitious scientist Victor Frankenstein. However, the consequences of Victor's scientific creation are dire as, rejected by Frankenstein and tormented by those he comes in contact with, the Creature is an abandoned and misunderstood outcast who seeks revenge and retribution against Victor and those he holds dear while all he truly wants is connection with and acceptance from those around him.
Kallor's libretto jettisons much of Shelley's novel, including the framing device set in the North Pole where Frankenstein and the Creature encounter an explore. This decision works extremely well with the focus now almost solely on the isolation and suffering experienced by both the creator and his monstrous creation. Kallor's score is gorgeous, with skillful use of operatic elements combined with evocative notes and soaring yet introspective arias which flesh out the emotional turmoil, pain, and suffering of the characters. However, while there are haunting arrangements that conjure the impending doom of the plot and the score creates a gothic feeling for the entire production, the first act is mainly sung recitative that furthers the plot along, with the arias mainly in the second act. As beautiful as the score is, I wish there were more solo arias, or even a duet, in act one, especially for the Creature and the Blind Man who teaches him how to read, or one for the Creature and Victor to introduce their respective inner turmoil. However, while I wish the score in act one were more effective, it's still quite impressive and sounds simply gorgeous performed by a fantastic orchestra under Clinton Smith's conducting.
While the source material is over two centuries old, Frankenstein manages to resonate with modern audiences by drawing parallels between Frankenstein's quest for knowledge and the ethical dilemmas faced by contemporary scientists. Kallor's score and libretto effectively challenge preconceived notions of what exactly makes a "monster" and the consequences of human prejudice and cruelty. Kallor's work also beautifully emphasizes the deep-seated humanity within the Creature.
The cast is excellent. With a gorgeous voice and a distinct stage presence that provides us with an in-depth understanding of the psychological torment and inner conflict of this lonely and misunderstood creation, Edward Parks is superb as the Creature. Terrence Chin-Loy effectively evokes the anguish and confusion that Victor Frankenstein suffers in a rich and fleshed-out portrayal.
As Elizabeth, the woman Victor plans to marry, Katherine Beck is impressive; her second act aria is a major highlight of the production. Gordon Hawkins and Andrew Stuckey are both wonderful as Victor's father, Alphonse, and the blind man the creature meets, respectively. Armand Delgado is bright as Victor's younger brother, and Brad Bickhardt, Melissa Solomon, and Chelsea Rose Neiss round out the cast with effective performances.
Sarah Ina Meyers' direction derives clear portrayals and her staging makes effective use of Bretta Gerecke's simple but effective set design; the muted greys and stark whites provide a feeling of loneliness and isolation. Gerecke's costumes are rich and period appropriate and her projections help fill in details for the various locations in the plot. The lighting by Tláloc Lopez-Watermann is moody and evocative. Andrea Robertson's excellent fight direction ratchets up the suspense and delivers a few moments of shock and surprise.
Frankenstein at Arizona Opera is an elegant yet also effectively streamlined version of the sophisticated, classic work that focuses quite well on the emotions of its main characters. The cautionary tale that Shelley so beautifully incorporated into her novel is as relevant today as it was in the 19th century, and Arizona Opera's production ensures that this message remains as poignant as ever.
Frankenstein runs through October 21, 2023, at Arizona Opera. Performances this weekend are at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. There also are two performances on October 20 and 21 in Tucson at the Temple of Music and Art. For tickets and information, please visit azopera.org.
Composer and Librettist: Gregg Kallor
Cast: The Creature: Edward Parks