Roger Brunyate, artistic director of Peabody Conservatory's opera program, has produced 20 new operas by young composers there since 1984. The most recent, Daniel Crozier's "With Blood, With Ink," is also one of the most impressive. It premiered yesterday at Friedberg Hall.
The 90-minute opera tells the story of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a 17th-century Mexican poet who became a nun in order to further her work.
Disliked by the church hierarchy, she was eventually compelled to renounce her work and take a vow of silence when a peasant uprising unseated the royal patrons who had supported her.
Writer Peter M. Krask insightfully captures this complicated story in a dramatically taut and expressive libretto. In it, the adult Juana, close to death, sees the events of her life acted out before her. She reflects on these events, confronts her old enemies and finally makes peace by facing her younger self. An offstage chorus singing excerpts from the requiem Mass provides an additional layer of commentary to the work's dramaturgy.
Composer Crozier has responded to this libretto with music of extraordinary depth and power. His compositional style is a fusion of several enduring traditions of 20th-century music, flexible and capable of expressing a wide emotional range.
He gives the characters and their story a compelling richness enviable for a composer his age. Indeed, it is clear Daniel Crozier has the potential to make important contributions to new opera.
Of course, premiering such an opera is an ambitious undertaking even for established companies. While yesterday's performance may have fallen short of the professional standard that is increasingly the norm at Peabody, it was unusually strong for student work and, as first performances go, altogether satisfactory.
Outstanding members of the strong cast included Monica Reinagel and Elizabeth Knauer as the old and young Juana, respectively. Both responded brilliantly to the music's innately visionary character.
Other fine performances included those of Kathleen Stapleton as the Countess de Paredes and Kenneth Shelley as Juana's chief nemesis, Padre Antonio.