Quick impressions: Lillian Alling (Vancouver Opera)Posted: 22 October 2010
First of all, her name doesn’t sound like Lily Allen. The last name is pronounced closer to Ahh-Ling. At least that cleared that up for me.
As epic an opera as it gets, from Brooklyn to the wilds of British Columbia in the late 1920s, Lillian Alling is actually told in flashback, as Irene in the early 1980s recalls to her son the circumstances of Lillian’s quest to find the elusive Jozef, who always seemed to be one step ahead of Lillian. The fact that there is very little we know of the historical Lillian Alling makes her a great subject for an opera; the result is a story that reaches legendary proportions.
Librettist John Murrell and composer John Estacio team up to fill in the gaps in the established story of Lillian Alling. Estacio’s music matches the scope quite well. Two examples include the expansive swells to match Lillian’s musings of the vast land she’s traversing, as well as the brief big-band stylings of the Brooklyn boys.
I’m not sure if it’s the Queen Elizabeth Theatre’s acoustics, or the overpowering orchestra, but I had some trouble hearing individual singers do their parts. (Or maybe I’m just going deaf?) But don’t get me wrong: the singing was top-notch, and when the chorus got in there (such as the ending to Act 1), it gave me chills.
Overall, I think Lillian Alling is a great opera, and I applaud Vancouver Opera for taking the leap and using their stage to showcase contemporary opera and give it the local connection (through the defunct Oakalla prison and the Telegraph Trail). If you don’t get a chance to see it this Saturday night, it might appear on CBC Radio 2 on a future Saturday afternoon.