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Life in Death: An Opera Electronica Redrum at Fort Fringe

Remaining performances: Saturday, July 18th, 1:00p.m. Sunday, July 19th, 5:00p.m. Friday, July 25th, 11:30p.m.

They say: A one-act opera based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Oval Portrait” about an artist who becomes so obsessed with his painting of his bride that he does not realize she is wasting away as he paints her.

Brett’s take Poe and Fringe seem to go together. Maybe it’s something to do with the simplicity and universality of Poe’s tales that makes them easily producible and attractive; maybe it’s the bloody, romantic weirdness that makes them Fringey; but whatever it is, we have in “Life in Death” yet another small gem built on the poet’s words.

The plot is essentially all there in the blurb—-a lovely young wife, despite the advice of her father, marries an artist, and then withers and dies as he attepts to capture her beauty on canvas. This is a classic Poe story in the beautiful-women and disturbed-men vein (it would be misogynistic if it were written by anyone but Poe). The point is, like most operas, not the revelation of plot, but rather the indulgence in the passions involved, and in Gregg Martin’s chamber opera version, those passions come across, for the most part, beautifully.

Don’t let the “electronica” scare you away; only the occasional synth-wash crops up—-the score is largely strings and keys, augmented by a live violinist and percussionist. Only that percussionist’s blip-y drum pad sounds out of place (a more natural timbre would be easy to achieve); otherwise, the music is gorgeous, full of foreboding, recalling in its Gothic grandeur the best in film and video game music. The singers are in fine form; Tad Czyzewski, in particular posseses a velvety, seductive tone as the Painter. One member of the cast, Young Emily, doesn’t sing, but rather dances, and is played by different women on each night. I saw Mary Werntz, whose only other appearance is July 18; and while I can’t speak for the other performer, I can say Werntz was utterly fantastic, capable of conveying more emotions in a single glance than some actors can do with a monologue. Set designer Rick Lenegan deserves mention for his evocatively simple setup: a triangular seat for Emily (the Wife), mirrored in a triangular frame for the Painter’s easel, both painted the sanguine color of Redrum’s walls.

The show is not without flaws. Although I haven’t seen Magnum Opus, I can tell you nearly everything Brian said in his review of it holds true here; besides that both pieces are pocket operas and both feature Czyzewski, “Life in Death” is occasionally a little plainly staged, the singing outshining the acting. Redrum swallows much of the sound; I could discern few of Bridgidt Eversole’s words as Emily when she hit the top of her register. Finally, the play ends on an almost dismissive note, the tragic buildup nearly undone. Inthe end, though, it adds up to an occasionally lovely—-albeit occasionally perfunctory—-cameo delight.

See it if: You saw Magnum Opus and liked it; or you can savor the thrill of a suspenseful, doomy setup sans a powerful payoff.

Skip it if: You’re looking for 1) plot 2) laughs 3) sex 4) rock n roll 5) techno 6) blood or 7) a crash cymbal played with a violin bow. Oh wait, see it if you you’re looking for that last one.