Company: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Venue: Browning Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road
Dates: June 25, 27, 29
Tickets: $25-$125; 961-0644 or ExperienceOpera.org
Story: American writer Gertrude Stein left her homeland with her brother, Leo, for London in 1902, and moved to Paris the following year. Eventually, the siblings settled at 27 rue de Fleurus, near the Luxembourg Gardens. When another American ex-patriate, Alice B. Toklas, met Gertrude in 1907, the two immediately were drawn to each other and began an almost 40-year relationship that ended when Stein died in 1946.
The ‘Stein salon’ at 27 rue de Fleurus became the place to see and be seen by artists and writers for decades. Its weekly gatherings were filled at one time or another with priceless works by Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse and many others.
The avant garde visited to share stories, cigarettes and philosophy with Gertrude. Alice tended to the other ‘wives’ in another room, while the likes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and photographer Man Ray held court with Gertrude, who lived life on her own terms.
Highlights: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s (OTSL) latest venture, termed an “opera in five acts,” is a delightful, interpretive piece of history with a sprightly musical score by Ricky Ian Gordon and a clever libretto by Royce Vavrek. With lush, soaring voices and a fluid storyline, it’s already a nicely polished little operatic gem.
A tidy cast of five players is all that is needed to tell this endearing tale of the talented but also blunt and self-important Stein and the reserved, self-effacing but equally vital Toklas. Stephanie Blythe as Stein welcomes the audience to her abode with the oft-sung line, “Did I invite you?,” while Elizabeth Futral knits away in the corner as the quietly attentive Toklas.
Each of them displays outstanding vocal abilities, with the renowned mezzo-soprano Blythe making her OTSL debut a most impressive appearance. Soprano Futral, who first worked with Opera Theatre in a performance of Ariadne on Naxos in 1991, is equally adept at measuring Gordon’s intricately lavish notes and shaping Vavrek’s telling libretto.
Playing multiple roles in support of these two stellar stars are Theo Lebow, Tobias Greenhalgh and Daniel Brevik, a trio of Gerdine Young Artists who sing impressively as well as handle some bizarrely comic moments.
27 is a sparking and inventive interpretation of a real place in a real time, ruled by the imperious Stein on her own terms that openly defied convention in the early 20th century.
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.