March 10, 2007

Review of Ponca opera

Of Coyotes, Men and Tribal MemoryDespite the looming weight of history depicted through the presence of Standing Bear and the Ponca tribe, onstage at all times, “Wakonda’s Dream” emerges as Mr. Davis’s most intimate, human-scaled opera. He retains a penchant for angular lines of exposition, but here they are broken up by lyric passages that sometimes achieve a ravishing beauty, as in a first-act duet by Justin and Delores, set to music of shimmering iridescence. (That moment is reprised to heartbreaking effect in the second act.) Mr. Davis’s music offers elements of Impressionism, Copland’s pastoral mode and the sophisticated instrumental voicings of Duke Ellington and Oliver Nelson.

Mr. Komunyakaa’s words sing well, his poetic texts providing depth to the passions and struggles of these nuanced, three-dimensional characters. The pacing isn’t ideal: after a brisk first act, much of the second is given over to lengthy soliloquies. A booming hip-hop number that opens the second act fell flat at this performance, more because of poor coordination among cast members than because of any intrinsic flaw.

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