REVIEW: Weak libretto mars a musically strong new work for the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus.
The highlight of last weekend's Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus concert was the world premiere of the dramatic song cycle "Out of My Range (and Other Age-Related Performance Issues)" by New York-based composer Michael Shaieb.
This is the third work that the chorus has commissioned from Shaieb. Like the first, "Through a Glass Darkly," which explored crystal meth addiction, "Out of My Range" has a strong musical profile that was sabotaged by a weak libretto. It tries to tell the comic story of the intergenerational challenges of a gay chorus preparing for a concert.
Shaieb has a pop sensibility, and crafts tuneful melodies in many styles. Having written for these men before, he knows how to play to their strengths, producing wonderfully robust choruses. Artistic director Stan Hill conducted with passion, making a strong case for the work. The songs would have made a greater impact if the chorus' diction had been better.
The libretto, by Shaieb's partner, Brent Lord, was the problem. It was overly cerebral. It approached the situations intellectually, trading in ideas -- often platitudes -- rather than emotions, distancing the listener. The comedy was often obvious and some of the bits were extended well beyond their expiration date. The libretto attempted to be dramatic, but ended up being merely narrative, with little real drama.
The team was most successful in two powerful ballads that really got to the heart of the aging process, "Ode to My Twenties," talking to a younger self, and "30 Years Ago: A Conversation." Both were deeply affecting.
The rest of the concert also played off generational dynamics. The 20- and 30-somethings sang a jazz standard by Oscar Levant from 1934 titled "Blame It on My Youth," while the older members sang the Beatles' "When I'm Sixty-Four."
Throughout the evening, musical variety was provided by a large number of soloists from within the chorus. They performed with style and proficiency. It was particularly nice to see the showcasing of older members.
It was also nice to hear a chorus from Robert Seeley's song cycle "NakedMan," commissioned by Hill when he was director of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus in the 1990s. It was a reminder of the legacy he leaves with the TCGMC and the gay choral movement generally as he heads toward retirement in June.
William Randall Beard writes frequently about music and theater.