Beautiful Singing Brings Lackluster Story to Life in THE INVENTION OF MOREL

Beautiful Singing Brings Lackluster Story to Life in THE INVENTION OF MOREL

Pictured: Andrew Wilkowske and Lee Gregory. Photo by Liz Lauren. 

Review: THE INVENTION OF MOREL at Chicago Opera Theatre

By Hilary Holbrook

When I think of opera, my preconceived notions range from the serious (a commanding diva in an immense ball gown belts out an aria about her lost love) to the humorous (Elmer Fudd singing “Kill de Wabbit”). Chicago Opera Theatre’s latest piece, THE INVENTION OF MOREL, shattered many of my expectations. The music, written by Stewart Copeland, was unexpected and diverse, but the story is one-sided and boring.

Based on the novel, LA INVENCIÓN DE MOREL, the opera follows the story of Fugitive (Andrew Wilkowske) who has fled to a deserted island. Once there, he stumbles upon a group of partiers, including Faustine (gorgeously sung by Valerie Vinzant) who have been invited to the island at the behest of the mad scientist Morel (Nathan Granner). As the story progresses, we realize that the partiers exist in a different time period than Fugitive, although he is able to see into their world. Fugitive must then decide whether to abandon his current timeline to be with Faustine or continue his island existence in solitude. The story is told in flashback through Narrator (Lee Gregory) . Narrator and Fugitive are the same person, and Narrator is relaying the action as Fugitive is living it. This was the most interesting part of the opera. Gregory and Wilkowske played off each other quite well. They each have warm, commanding voices and a striking stage presence.

The overture began quite unassumingly. I expected a grandiose beginning, detailing the musical journey about to take place, but, the beginning felt as slow and dreary as the life of the Fugitive himself. As the story progressed, there were moments of interest, and the party scenes, infused with Caribbean style music, were extremely pleasing to the ear and fun to watch. The problem is that the story does not have enough dramatic importance to merit its telling. Only hearing the Fugitive/Narrator side of the story makes the entire piece feel slow and incomplete. I was waiting for Faustine to sense the presence of Fugitive or for some way for the two parallel worlds to collide. Without this, the story seemed to feel a bit like an operatic hybrid of CAST AWAY and LOST.

Although THE INVENTION OF MOREL does not have the necessary elements to hold an audience’s attention for 90 minutes, Copeland’s music is intriguing, and Chicago Opera Theatre proves that it still has the potential to engage audiences in a dynamic way that shatters any biased notions of opera.

About author

Hilary Holbrook

Hilary Holbrook has worked as an actor and violinist in Chicago since graduating from Loyola in 2008. When not in the theater, Hilary enjoys knitting, antiquing, and adventures of all kinds!