Trilogy, An Opera Company is in the midst of building a Ring Cycle in a TV studio located on the fourth floor of Express Network, a converted department store near the campus of Rutgers University in Newark. It’s great!
Trilogy is a performing arts company that “focuses on the works of Black composers and subject matter relative to the Black experience.” It is devoted to “supporting a community of Black artists” and its performance of Das Rheingold on Saturday March 26, 2022, was a shot in the arm.
We all admire the cleverness of orchestration and thematic development that starts Rheingold in a solid E-flat chord over 136 measures. It was a welcome slap in the face to hear it performed by an orchestra of 19. (Wagner’s score calls for 18 anvils alone, plus almost 90 other instruments.) Every entrance, every breath was plain to hear, and a new appreciation was gained. LaToya Webb, the conductor, was cool and collected under trying circumstances. She was billed as “the first African-American woman to conduct Das Rheingold,” and I have no doubt that’s true.
The program does not credit a stage director. It was performed cleanly in a rectangular room, in front of a vast green-screen, allowing video backgrounds and special effects to be added behind the performers. The “live” audience of 50 or so was unaware of the added video elements and witnessed only a bare-bones production.
Some of the singers were not ready, some were, and a few were knock-outs. The Rheinmaidens — Kimberly Lloyd, Maria Marbet and Sheila Harris Jackson — were very effective, as was the entertaining and exuberant Kevin Courtemanche as Loge. Fred Redd was fine as Wotan. Chantelle Grant stopped the show as Erda, giving a riveting and literally unforgettable performance.
Let’s be clear: this was only a few steps away from Judy Garland’s appeal in the 1939 show Babes in Arms that the orphanage be saved by “putting on a show.” There was no Mime and no Froh. The anvils didn’t work. The two-person violin section needed reinforcement. Alberich sang almost the entire role on the side of the stage reading the part from a music stand. (I believe the performer was brought in as a last-minute replacement.)
I loved every inch of it. This was the real thing — a gutsy, ambitious Black opera company that has decided to swing for the bleachers. Walküre is scheduled for May 21, followed by Siegfried on July 2 and Götterdämmerung on August 6. I can’t wait!