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Review: A Hand of Bridge and Gisela in Her Bathtub 

Will Coviello on the 9th Ward Opera Company’s minimalist and absurd mini-operas

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The 9th Ward Opera Company focuses on presenting short chamber operas, forgoing grand sets and tableaus in favor of essential props and small chamber ensemble or piano accompaniment. The mirth was reduced to extremely minimal proportions recently at the Marigny Opera House in a series of short songs by Samuel Barber. Two delightfully minimalist pieces, or operatic ditties, took lyrics from 8th- and 9th-century Irish monks' scribblings in the margins of texts they hand-copied. In the less than one-minute-long "Promiscuity," one monk let it be known that another monk preferred not to sleep alone. Mezzo sopranos Elizabeth Evans and Katherine Sherwood White sang a suite of Barber songs, including odd pieces such as "Monks and Raisins" and an homage to cows called "A Green Lowland of Pianos," and the program included two short comic operas.

  The evening opened with Barber's A Hand of Bridge, a roughly 10-minute piece about four bridge players, each of whom offered a brief aria about internal torments. Evans played a woman obsessed with buying a hat with peacock feathers and climbed registers to emphasize the seemingly trivial desire. Laura Booras' Geraldine, prompted by a trumped queen, fretted about the death of her mother, and Samuel Hendricks' deep baritone helped him plunge the work into hilarious distraction. As a stockbroker, he contemplates his boss' much greater wealth and fantasizes about becoming rich enough to hire teams of naked servants to fulfill his wishes.

  Neil Weisenel and Michael Cavanagh's Gisela in Her Bathtub is a chamber opera composed in 1998 that toys with operatic cliches. The 9th Ward production added some cheeky elements as Gisela (Fiona Delta) entered in a short, bright pink bathrobe and teasingly shed it before slipping into a bubblegum pink bathtub. As she read a romance novel in the tub, its plot was acted out around her. Wearing a horned helmet and an outrageous beard separated into twin braids, a Viking named Olaf (Lesley DeMartin) courted Helga (Booras), the king's daughter. The overwrought affair proceeded until the ruler (Hendricks) burst in and objected. At times the action paused and reversed as Gisela flipped wet pages stuck together in her bubble bath. Under the direction of 9th Ward Opera founder Kathleen Westfall, they nicely balanced the singing's serious tones and silly action of the bath and the dramatic scene.

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