Bob Goepfert Reviews Two One-Act Operas At Opera Saratoga

Jul 5, 2018

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Opera Saratoga is doing local audiences a great favor by offering two short contemporary operas. It offers an opportunity to have a strong dramatic experience, hear haunting music and see youthful talent at its best. The two pieces on display at the Little Theatre on the grounds of SPAC might not be everyone’s taste, but they are the future of opera.

The evening begins with “Vinkensport, or the Finch Opera”. It is the world premiere of the chamber version of the piece about the ancient Finnish sport of finch-sitting. It’s an odd look at an odd sport that has six people competing to see how often their pet finch can warble in an hour.

What seems a peculiar choice to make a point is perfect for the 40-minute work that explores the nature of competition. If people care so much and feel so idealistically about the obscure pastime but would cheat to win – it asks what would someone do to win something like the World Cup? It is a clever piece that is mostly told through inner-monologues. The various individuals reveal themselves through the lyrics of Royce Vavrek, which are penetrating and revealing. They are also defined by the names they give to their pets. Most defining are Atticus Finch, Holy St. Francis and Farinelli.

The thoughts, dreams, desires and resentments are given depth and needed emotion by David T. Little’s score. It is performed so brilliantly by an eight piece orchestra under the direction of David Alan Miller that it becomes another character in the presentation.

It is however, “Rocking Horse Winner,” a work being given its American premiere by Opera Saratoga that will have you thinking and discussing so many issues long after the curtain falls on this disturbing, but powerful piece.

“Rocking Horse Winner” is a deeply complex piece of drama that is moving, touching and sad. It concerns a mother and her son who is clearly on the autistic spectrum. She is a truly negative individual who believes because of bad luck she does not have the material possessions she craves. The son, Paul, discovers he has a gift that when he rides his rocking horse to the point of physical and mental exhaustion voices in his head reveal the names of winning race horses. With the help of an uncle and a handyman, they bet the races and win a lot of money to give to the mother.

Sadly, even tragically, there is no amount of money that will bring a smile to the mother’s face or elicit words of praise or love from her lips. Determined to win the affection of his mother, Paul pushes himself to the point of harm to win more money to feed the greedy, insatiable appetite of his mother. The end is as inevitable as it is sad.

The production is a wonderful blending of Gareth Williams’ beautiful music, sublimely rendered by Miller’s orchestra and supported by a ghostly ensemble of four. The music is so touching and moving that during the presentation it feels a violation to applaud. All you can do is appreciate the beautiful collaboration between music, the lyrics of Anna Chatterton, and the story adapted from a D.H. Lawrence short story – all made better through marvelous performances.

As for those performances, Paul is played with intelligence and heart-breaking sensitivity by Tyler Nelson. If the material does not sound appealing to you – attend anyway just to say you saw him when. This is a gifted performer with a wonderful voice and the ability to get to the soul of a character. He has nothing but big things ahead of him.

Another revelation is the performance of Christine Suits as the mother. She is an intern member of the Young Artist Program and is simply a star in the making. She also had a major role in Vinkensport. Her diversity is dazzling.

Indeed, the entire cast of Vinkensport consisted of performers from the Young Artists program. This is a group of all-stars, who have talent beyond their years.

If you want to experience the future of opera, whether it be creative or in performance - see the one acts at Opera Saratoga. For schedule and ticket information call 518-584-6018 or go to

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.