by Hugo Weisgall
libretto by Richard Hart
RMP's production of The Stronger ran for three nights at Sacramento hotspot, Magpie. It was presented in the round, introduced nightly by Kevin Doherty, Omari Tau, and special guest Janis Stevens. Throughout the evening, pianists, Dean Mora, Alex Agius, and Jim Martinez created atmospheric music at the piano.
1601 16th St
Sacramento, CA 95814
The Stronger - Synopsis
Two women, both of them actresses, meet in a quiet restaurant late Christmas Eve afternoon. Estelle arrives in a happy mood, laden with Christmas shopping bags. Without invitation, she joins Lisa and launches into a stream of patronizing gossip about her marital happiness, her children, and the devotion of Harold, her husband. It would seem Lisa apparently had been close friends with him in the past. Estelle put an end to the relationship.
As she tosses off one cocktail after another, Lisa’s silence and her failure to respond to either gossip or teasing infuriates Estelle, leading her to open hostility, and finally to insinuations about Lisa’s former relationship with Harold. Becoming a bit drunk, she begins to rage, accusing Lisa of scheming to win Harold, even after his marriage, and of having plotted under the guise of friendship to dominate her and subtly govern her taste, the management of her home, and even the choice of name given to her son. Carried away with suspicion, she paints Lisa as a monster, a vampire.
Having unburdened herself of resentments which had been plaguing her for years, she relaxes a bit. Recalling that after all, it is she, not her rival, who possesses husband, home and children, she collects her things, bids Lisa a patronizing “Merry Christmas” and exits. Lisa is left alone, still silent.
Premiering in 1952, Hugo Weisgall’s The Stronger began as an experiment. Even with the brilliant Dominick Argento at the keys, chain-smoking, and serving as prompter, he couldn’t find success with his original Estelle. After some work on the score and recasting the role, the piece has remained his more frequently performed opera.
Richard Hart’s adaption of the play by August Strindberg captures Estelle’s descent into paranoia and posturing. Strindberg’s notion that characters could have multiple motivations for their actions was new. It feels real and new again in the Weisgall-Hart creation with music that seems equally taut and elastic, tonal and atonal, rhythmic and recitativo.
Presenting the work in an actual restaurant provides the right sort of purgatory for Estelle: eyes watching, judging, silent.
Estelle - Carrie Hennessey
Lisa - Sarah Fitch
Piano - Jennifer Reason
Director - Omari Tau