The Wandering Scholar is a medieval bedroom farce featuring a passionate but loyal wife (the excellent Sharin Apostolou at the performance I attended), a bloated, horny priest (the jolly bass Jeffrey Tucker), baritone Ron Loyd as the high-spirited husband, and tenor Benjamin Robinson, whose clear, pleasant voice fits the character well but was at times drowned out by the orchestra, as the handsome young trickster-scholar. This mini-opera is a pure delight, preparing us for anything but the cloud of gloom that drops over us with Savitri, despite the latter's "happy" ending.
The small orchestra, conducted with sensitivity by Richard Cordova, had a few intonation problems in the strings but performed with pleasing clarity and solid timing for the most part. The little OPERA Theatre and all involved are to be commended for bringing these rare works to New York audiences. Highlights included the duet as the Scholar lays out to the wife his romantic tale of financial woe ("What can I do but wander/and sing myself to happiness like the larks?") while randy, grouchy Father Philippe reads aloud from Latin Scripture in an effort to drown out the attractive young interloper. The a capella duet between Death and Savitri that begins Savitri is an effectively stark moment as well, and indeed Ms. Johnson had many effective moments as her mystical story wended it way to its equally mystical conclusion.
The two chamber operas are united in the theme of the trickster. In one, the wandering scholar uses his prior knowledge to expose the wife's double-dealing and thus earn his meal; in the other, Savitri asks of Death a boon that seems of little value but ultimately means everything to her. The shows also present something of the great breadth of Holst's musical accomplishments. He's a composer due more attention than we normally give him, distracted as we are by the drama of The Planets.
Travelers was performed May 10 through 13 at 59E59.