By Sarah Bryan Miller
Post-Dispatch Classical Music Critic

"Loss of Eden," which had its world premiere Sunday night at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, is a moving and lyrical account of a heartbreaking subject.

Cary John Franklin's music meshes beautifully with Michael Patrick Albano's poetic libretto; Franklin has a remarkable gift for vocal writing. At its best, it transports the listener, as in the second act's exquisite trio setting of Emily Dickinson's poem "This is the hour of lead."

It does raise the unusual question of whether an opera can be too short. "Eden" runs just over two hours with intermission; in its 95 minutes of music it tries to do both too much and too little. But overall it is a success.

It begins with an overture evocative of the machinery of flight. The first words sung in the opera are from baritone Keith Phares as Charles A. Lindbergh, singing, "They said I was a hero; they said I was a traitor," effectively summing up the two most public aspects of Lindbergh's long and very public life. From there the libretto follows episodes in the lives of Charles and Anne Lindbergh, with some vignettes more effective than others.

At the story's core is the dramatic story of the kidnapping and death of the Lindbergh baby, the passions that surrounded the search for the golden-haired toddler and the trial and execution of the man convicted of the crime, Bruno Richard Hauptmann. But we're a while getting there, and not all of the loose ends are tied up by the opera's end. (Lindbergh's isolationism on the eve of World War II, for example, receives only an oblique reference.)

Some of the most gripping moments are given to Hauptmann and his wife, Anna. The relative anonymity of the German immigrant couple seems to have given Albano a freedom to invent, to embellish, and that makes them in some ways more immediate - and, perhaps, more sympathetic than he, at least, deserves.

We may know too much about the much written-about (and much-published) Lindberghs to issue a full dramatic license in their case. (The real Hauptmann went by his middle name, but he's consistently called Bruno in the opera.) The high-flown prose of the Lindberghs' more expository scenes contrasts nicely with the earthiness of the Hauptmanns.

The production received fine performances from its four principals - Phares, mezzo-soprano Kellie J. Van Horn as Anne, tenor Mark Duffin as Hauptmann and soprano Ann Panagulias as Anna. Phares sang exquisitely; Van Horn made the mother's pain real. Duffin's Hauptmann was a bully with smarts, while Panagulias' performance was dramatically riveting. Albano directed with few missteps.

Karen TenEyck's cloud-dappled unit set worked simply but effectively; it was enhanced by Mark McCullough's intelligent lighting. Marie Anne Chiment's many costumes were stunningly designed and executed

Philip Brunelle has a fine grasp of the score, but let the orchestra's volume levels get away from him; they too often overpowered the singers.


Critic Sarah Bryan Miller:
E-mail sbmiller@post-dispatch.com
Phone: 314-340-8249