March-April 2007 Silver: The Thief of Love
Gendolyn Hillman (Vidya), James Brown (Sundar); Stony Brook Opera/David Lawton
Hummingbird – 112 minutes
Sheila Silver’s charming opera, The Thief of Love, is based on a classic 18th Century Bengali court tale with additional touches from Indian erotic poetry, Sikh prayer mantras, and the writings of Rabindranath Tagore. But to the opera fan this Thief is a comic take on Puccini’s Turandot.
In mythical India, the Beautiful Vidya, Princess of Beauty, is looking for a husband. But the man must be one who can defeat her in intellectual debate – no three riddles as in Turandot, but a really clever debate. Just as she is defeating yet another candidate Sundar, Prince of Beauty, shows up to accept the challenge. He is a wealthy gamester, used to winning. But Vidya is no easy prey. Sundar tries to win her through deceit and disguise. It does not work. Before true love can prevail both must conquer their arrogance and pride. Of course, they do. Happy ending!
Not only is the story entertaining, but so is the score. This is Silver’s first opera, but she knows what a good opera needs: melody. And she offers it in abundance. It all sounds quite fresh and appealing.
As much a film (by film-maker John Feldman) as a video of an opera, Thief is a record of the opera’s March 2001 premiere at the Stony Brook Opera. The titles are unusual. Instead of a white-letter text occupying only the lowest part of the screen, the text, in multi-colors, is seen all over the screen, but always relating to the singer, kind of a comic-strip balloon without the balloon. It works exceedingly well; the eye does not need to keep referring to the bottom of the screen then go back to the scene. Some might complain that the text is intrusive. Perhaps if they could be turned off, as in most videos, that complaint would be moot.
The production is quite eye-catching. Very simple sets (platforms, a tower, designed by Philip Baldwin) are enlivened by the gorgeous Indian costume designs of Sarah Iams. It appears that no expense was spared in their production. Staging by Ned Canty moves the cast effectively. Student singers do well by the score, particularly Hillman. The Stony Brook Symphony accompanies under the secure baton of Lawton.