This 'Hotel' isn't worth checking into

March 14, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

One of the bad things about Henry Mollicone's new opera "Hotel Eden" is that most of it is bad. The worst thing about it, however, is that the good parts come last. This violates one of the most important rules of writing, musical or otherwise: You put your best stuff (or at least some of it) first.

"Hotel Eden," which received its East Coast premiere Thursday night in Friedberg Hall in a Peabody Opera Theatre production directed by Roger Brunyate, updates three biblical stories: Adam and Eve; Noah and Mrs. Noah; and Abraham and Sarah. There's a great precedent for dramatizing such stories -- and enlivening them with contemporary detail -- in the Mystery cycles of 14th century England. Mollicone and his librettist, Judith Fein, do not live up to that precedent.

More than half of "Hotel Eden" is over before the listener gets to hear anything interesting. The piece begins with an overture for the nine-player ensemble, which was conducted by Teri Murai, that was as perky as day-old coffee. And all of the first act, which is about the consciousness-raising of Eve, is every bit as dull as the overture. The second act -- the Noah story -- is just as bad until the end, when a lovely trio that later becomes a quintet makes things interesting for a few moments. The best music comes in the final act. There's nothing genuinely memorable here, but Mollicone puts some moving and sentimental tunes in the mouths of Abraham and Sarah as they sing about what it is to love late in life. It's the sort of stuff that one might find in a fairly good Broadway show -- the only problem is that it comes too late and there's just not enough of it.

The proximity of "Hotel Eden" to musical theater brings up another problem. In this kind of musical drama, it is much more important to understand what sung words mean than it is in more conventional, straight opera. But the diction of most of the members of its student cast -- Debra Fontaine (Sarah) and Steve Goodman (Abraham) were important exceptions in the final act -- just wasn't clear enough to let a listener know what was being sung about. And that rendered too much of "Eden" almost incomprehensible.

Making matters worse was the fact that most of the singers were unaccustomed to the kind of choreographed movement musical theater requires. With exceptions like Patricia Barbano (who played supporting roles in all three acts) and Jeff Buchman (who played such roles in the first two and has what sounds like a fresh, sweet voice), valiant is the word that comes to mind when one describes the quality of the movement.

There were beautiful sets with a Miami Beach art deco motif by James Fouchard, and lovely costumes by John Lehmeyer. None of this, unfortunately, kept me from wanting to check out of "Hotel Eden."

The performance will be repeated tonight at 8:15 p.m.

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