from a review by Peter Jacobi, HeraldTimesOnline.com, May 7, 2014 –
“2 New Operas Provide Food for Thought, Fun”
“Ile,” pronounced with a broad “I,” sets to music a play by Eugene O’Neill. “Ile” is the way the central character, the captain of a whaling ship in the 1890s, pronounces “oil.” He is fanatic when it comes to filling the ship with whale oil; there can be no return to home, he decrees, without the oil, no matter what the circumstances. It so happens, on this particular journey, the ship gets caught in ice for an extended period, causing the trip to become endless enough for the crew to consider mutiny and the captain’s wife, who had begged to come along rather than once again be left alone for a matter of months, to lose her mind, literally.
The score is Italian verismo, updated and made American through language, O’Neill’s inescapably stark New England and composer Donner’s own gift at establishing mood and tone. The music strongly hints of Puccini and his disciples. It draws one in, being melodic, lushly orchestrated and dramatic, eminently suited to O’Neill’s tragic material.
A chamber ensemble of 12 instrumentalists complemented the vocals, thanks to the score itself and to conductor Carlos Andres Botero. He and stage director David Kote gave the cast sufficient underpinning to make O’Neill’s six troubled characters once again come to life. Baritone Reuben Walker and soprano Natalie Weinberg as Captain Keeney and his wife entered totally into that unhappy world. So did bass-baritone Andrew Richardson as a grumpy, griping seaman and baritone Ryan Kieran as Keeney’s supportive Second Mate. Baritone Bruno Sandes and tenor Jake Gadomski added their portrayals of other seamen caught on the gloomy vessel.