Washington National Opera, World Premiere, 2015
THE WASHINGTON POST
The crowd-pleaser was “Service Provider” by Christopher Weiss and John de los Santos, about a couple whose anniversary dinner in a restaurant is compromised by the wife’s constant texting and the husband’s lover’s subsequent intrusion.
DC METRO THEATER PRESS
Service Provider is a portrait of a modern marriage, played out in texts and asides. The duet “Every Box Checked” hits every note in the libretto by John de los Santos.
… [the character Dallas’] aria about the evening specials is a thing of beauty. The music by Christopher Weiss begins and ends with a ringing cell phone and that motif continues from the woodwinds to the piano to the xylophone in a surprisingly classic score. This was just hilarious beginning to end – turning an experience we’re all painfully familiar with into art.
Service Provider, by Christopher Weiss and John de los Santos, turned in a crowd-pleasing farce for the finale, replete with infidelity, bad cellphone etiquette, and a haughty waiter. [Daryl Freedman had another opportunity to shine here, well-paired with the warm baritone of Hunter Enoch, seen earlier this year in as Morales in WNO’s Carmen. Another Carmen alum, Rexford Tester, gamely took on the florid writing for the waiter character.
FORT WORTH STAR TELEGRAM
…you can’t accuse the participants in the Fort Worth Opera’s 2017 Frontiers program of producing boring material.
‘Service Provider,’ by Christopher Weiss and John de los Santos, is a witty sendup of America’s obsession with cellphones.
“Helios Opera Brings Hilarious Service Provider Home”
Helios Opera opted to take its all-digital approach to a new twenty-minute work in Service Provider, a comedy in which half the characters cannot stay off their cell phones. This represents a kind of big artistic leap for Helios Opera: where in the past they have focused on smaller projects with only one singer, here they have graduated to a project that is somewhat larger in scale than their previous work in that they have four principal singers and a small cast of extras that populated the restaurant the work takes place in. It was really nice to see that they could take that leap.
Service Provider is essentially an opera all about cell phone use; the characters are on their phones for most of the run-time, pretty much ignoring everything around them. It’s all grounded rather excellently in real stakes from the characters, however: the story is about husband and wife Autumn and Beau going out for their third anniversary, and while Beau wants to treasure it, Autumn finds her way back to her phone every three seconds or so. It also implies a love triangle for Beau with someone else in the restaurant, however, and the way this denouement plays out over snooping on cell phones really ties well into the theme of how people relate both over a phone and in person. It also helps that, musically, the work makes sense. Comic opera is a very tricky creature to write, and I am very pleased to say that composer Christopher Weiss was more than up to the task of realizing John de los Santos’ libretto in ways that left a lot of the comedy in the music. One of my favorite demonstrations of this is when the restaurant’s much-put upon waiter Dallas sings about the night’s specials: Weiss sets the specials to an overindulgent homage to Rossini and Verdi, and the fact that he spends a full minute lyrically soliloquizing about a pasta special was such a hilarious juxtaposition that I barely even cared that the specials weren’t quite relevant to the plot.
I also rather liked how the married couple at the center of the story got some of their comedy in: the way Autumn interrupts Beau when he’s trying to speak about his day involves such an abrupt shift in music that it drew a laugh out of me even as the scene grew more tense. And that is to say nothing of how it integrates cell phone ringing seamlessly into the score.
And of course, Helios Opera found really inventive, really clever ways to shoot the whole thing. One of my favorite moments was in a trio where Autumn, Beau, and Beau’s side chick Charlene were stuck on their phones texting either at each other (in Beau and Charlene’s case) or at an unnamed third party (in Autumn’s case). This was shot in a close-up to all three characters spliced in three, and this was eminently fun because it played into the way the characters occasionally look up and speak past the phone, and it highlighted the way the vocal lines play off each other in the score. Service Provider was a fast, breezy little opera, and it shows just how far Helios Opera has come, as one of the forerunners of producing digital opera here in the US. It really shows more promise for what they can put together in the future, and even though we are back to seeing live performance it shows that there is still a place in the world for digital productions.
BRIGHTEST YOUNG THINGS
However, the best opera of the night was the last one, Service Provider. Watching people sing their text messages out loud is way more enjoyable than you would think, and Rexford Tester, who played the waiter Dallas, was delightful.
COMMUNITIES DIGITAL NEWS
“Of the three short operas premiered, “Service Provider” was for us at least the most fully realized in terms of plot, character, action and music.
In celebration of their third anniversary as a married couple, Beau (Hunter Enoch) has taken his wife Autumn (Daryl Freedman) to dinner at a fancy restaurant they’ve both apparently enjoyed before. But a big problem in their relationship becomes obvious almost from the start. Autumn seems physically conjoined with her smartphone, casually and thoughtlessly interrupting a supposedly romantic occasion again and again by giving primacy to whatever garbage demands her immediate response. Beau’s justifiable irritation continues to grow.
It’s at this point that librettist John de los Santos’ sophisticated and efficient narrative really takes off, as two more key characters are introduced: Dallas (Rexford Tester), the skilled, but condescending waiter and a sexy single diner named Charlene (Mandy Brown).
It’s a testament to Mr. de los Santos’ skill that he’s able to compact this all-too-familiar urban tale—including its additional complications—into a functional and satisfying plot. While his characters are a bit of a cliché, this is intentional as we’re dealing with a well-crafted satire in this opera and not simply a standard story line.
But Mr. de los Santos also contributes in two additional key areas. In a short period of time, he crisply and efficiently defines each character, while piling on additional characters and complications so quickly and efficiently that he’s able to bring his story quickly to the boiling point leading to a decisive climax and a satisfying denouement. He also provides efficient dialogue and verse forms with plenty of vowels, giving composer-collaborator Christopher Weiss a load of great musical material to work with.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Weiss was in turn inspired to provide the snappiest, most sharply defined music of the evening, helping flesh out the opera’s characters and providing the best single set piece of the night in which Dallas—in rapid-patter Gilbert & Sullivan mode—delivers a hymn of praise to food, to his chef and to his superior tableside skills. As astonishing as it is funny, it’s written, composed and sung like a mini-version of Figaro’s famous aria, “Largo al factotum.”
Of the three mini-operas presented Wednesday, it’s clear at least to this reviewer that “Service Provider” comes the closest by far in terms of being ready for prime time. Neither its story nor its hair-trigger characters ever flag; its instantly recognizable narrative remains humorously on target; the opera’s pace has a way of auto-accelerating right on schedule; and perhaps most important, its score pumps up and defines each character and defines each plot twist in a way that proved satisfying to Wednesday’s large and appreciative audience.”