The world loves the story of Frederic Chopin and the eccentric writer Aurore Dupin, who used the pen name George Sand. He was moody and needy. She was a survivor -- passionate, but at the same time tough. It has been said that in any romance, one person is the flower, and the other is the gardener. That was certainly true in this case.
Persis Parshall Vehar's one-act opera "George Sand -- and Chopin?" the latest, very charming take on the Chopin-Sand love affair, was presented Friday in Canisius College's Montante Cultural Center by tenor Thomas King, mezzo Sharon Mabry and Vehar herself on piano. At first glance, the two singers didn't resemble Chopin and Sand in the least. But the music -- and some fine acting -- soon took care of that.
The opera has an appropriate salon feel. It's a drama in miniature. Costumes are minimal; King said worlds about Chopin's medical condition just by wrapping a blanket around his shoulders.
Vehar is a very good pianist, and her feel for the instrument showed in the music. A waltz motif runs throughout the score, and catching fragments of Chopin -- the Funeral March, the B major Nocturne, a polonaise -- is fun.
Her music isn't as overtly melodic as Chopin's, and the contrast between the two composers plays up the contrast between the opera's characters. The vocal lines rise and fall mercurially. What's especially striking is that Chopin and Sand, though they often sing together, are clearly coming from two different places. His lines tend to float off into the stratosphere. Hers are stronger, ending on conclusive tones.
Mabry's resolute manner brought out Sand's strength and charm. For a mezzo, her voice is on the bright and high side, and you could sense Sand's cheerful, sometimes impatient temperament. King, too, was marvelously expressive and impetuous.
Both singers showed tremendous humor. The text is by Gabrielle Vehar, author of the one-person play "George Sand: Heart, Mind and Body." It brims with wit. "Can you translate that into music?" Sand asks Chopin, in response to some verbal tirade or other. Chopin's story was tragic, but it's good to be reminded that he and Sand were young and, above all, human.
The concluding duet, when the two finally make their way toward each other and shove aside their differences -- and when the fragmented music is suddenly resolved -- can make a listener laugh out loud in delight.
One slight criticism might be that Chopin's voice tended to drown out Sand's.
But then, isn't that the way things happened in real life?