Washington National Opera, World Premiere, 2015


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.


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.


…Minnesota Opera tried something else in a production that opened March 9 at the Luminary Arts Center, the company’s new alternate space in the North Loop area of downtown Minneapolis. They followed a fine production of Trouble in Tahiti with a recent work composed by Christopher Weiss to a text by John de los Santos titled Service Provider. Commissioned by the Washington National Opera, the work was first staged at the Kennedy Center during the 2015-16 season. Like Trouble in Tahiti, it deals with the difficulty we have communicating with each other.

In Tahiti, the problem is we’re over-busy, we take each other for granted, and we place too much value on material goods. It’s the human condition. Whereas the problem in Service Provider, which takes place in a restaurant in the present time, is more specific. It’s those damn phones. They’ve taken over our lives. Beau and Autumn have come to the restaurant to celebrate their third wedding anniversary, and they’re still in love: Beau boasts that they’ve “done it” in every room in the house.

But Autumn can’t stop texting. She asks Dallas the waiter to take their picture. By the time he takes a second picture, she proudly announces her phone already shows 68 “Likes.” Beau gets a call from Charlene, with whom he’s been having an affair. What he doesn’t know is that Charlene is seated at a nearby table, texting like crazy. The fight that ensues — with food flying through the air — is played in slow motion. At the end, Beau grabs Autumn’s phone and smashes it on the floor. She flees, leaving behind her gift to Beau, which he unwraps. It is, of course, a new phone.

Service Provider, which runs just 20 minutes, is a genuinely funny comic opera in the Carol Burnett vein. (Would that many 19th-century comic operas were so pleasingly short.) Kyle Weiler, who staged both operas, displays a flair for precise comic timing and expressive gestures, and his talented young cast, with their strong, well-trained voices, offer exuberantly amusing characterizations.

…Like Bernstein, Weiss sets words clearly, and his writing for an 11-piece chamber ensemble under the smart direction of Joseph Li, who also conducts Tahiti, has a zany, cartoon-like quality that energizes the opera and keeps it afloat.


…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.


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.


“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.”


Descending two stories down from the lobby to the subterranean performance space that is the Luminary Arts Center, I was uncertain how nourishing an feast of opera I would find. For the third program of its 2023-2024 season, the Minnesota Opera paired two one-act operas: Trouble in Tahiti, with music and libretto by Leonard Bernstein, and Service Provider, with music by Christopher Weis and Libretto by John de los Santos. Then I learned that the entire program would run a slim ninety minutes, including time carved out for an intermission between the two. How satisfying a banquet could I expect in so brief a time?

I need not have been concerned. From the time the first note sounded in Trouble in Tahiti until the last round of rousing applause for the outstanding cast and orchestra at the conclusion of Service Provider, I was rapt in the substance, sound and style of both pieces. I left Luminary Arts not only nourished but elated.

…While Trouble in Tahiti is a sobering social commentary, Service Provider, first staged in 2015, makes an extremely funny statement about how we live today. The service referenced in the title is cell phone service, though it can also refer to the human server at an upscale restaurant that is the setting for this opera. Autumn (Zoie Reams) and Beau (Jeremiah Sanders) are celebrating their third anniversary together, gloating over how perfectly matched they are, having “checked all the boxes.” Once Autumn receives a phone text, however, she is a goner: reading and sending texts, scrolling, taking and sending photos, and ignoring both Beau and the fastidious server (Efrain Corralejo). Beau tries but fails to intervene, and things get worse when he starts to receive texts from Charlene (Keely Futterer), a woman with whom he has just ended an affair. It leads up to a slap-stick brawl, with stage director Kyle Weiler showing his affinity for organizing chaotic stage business to an audience’s delight.

Weiss’ score for Service Provider works perfectly as a melodically lilting frame to carry de los Santos’ libretto. The music never distracts from the libretto, and here the story is everything, with its arch critique of our addiction to electronic devices, and the damage that addiction causes. There is also a hilarious jab at overly precious restaurant servers who recite the daily bill of fare to diners with the flourish of one describing the achievements of a Nobel laureate.

The two operas’ unifying themes of communications (the agony of spouses unable to communicate their needs or feelings, and the abuse we suffer at the hand of digital devices that prompt us to ignore the actual human beings in our presence) ring true as messages worth absorbing, and both are expressed through smartly written and composed pieces, delivered by an outstanding cast in a stylish production. I have learned my lesson, and never again will expect less than excellence from any program mounted by Minnesota Opera, no matter how short or long it may be.


A duo, of triumphant, heartbreaking, and comical one-act operas is lighting up the Luminary Arts Cetner thru March 23. Beginning with Leonard Berstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, the Minnesota Opera wastes no time in presenting a pristine presentation.

…Following an experience like Trouble in Tahiti could be a difficult task but the second act provides extreme feelings just as well with Christoper Weiss and John de los SantosService Provider, a comedic and yet dramatic take on the modern date night and the perils that can come with it when cell phones are added to the mix.

When Autumn (Zoie Reams) and Beau (Jeremiah Sanders) venture out to celebrate their three-year anniversary at an upscale restaurant, Autumn becomes enthralled with showing off her evening on social media – much to her husband’s dismay. Adding a kink to their night is a fellow diner, the sultry Charlene (Keely Futterer) who has been carrying on a n affair with Beau, and who is also dining at the restaurant. Add in an exuberant waiter, Dallas (Efraín Corralejo) who takes his job a tad too seriously and you’ve got a recipe for…disaster?

Filled with comedy and drama, Service Provider provides a commentary on the modern-day experience in restaurants. Whether it is a married couple who is obsessed with social media and constantly showing off their lives, or a singleton who is just seeking a night out but is enraptured in their phone. We see it every day and this one-act sums up our reality to a T.

Perhaps the best part of these two one-acts is that they are easily accessible. They provide a well-rounded taste of what opera can be. They are both in English, the stories are easy to follow, and they are short. These three elements can provide audiences who are new to the medium the opportunity to decide if opera is for them. The Minnesota Opera has crafted a wonderful night at Luminary Arts Center that is not to be missed by long time opera fans or newcomers alike.


One of opera’s chief selling points is its bigness. Big voices expressing big emotions about life-and-death matters on big, elaborate sets. But the art form also leads itself to intimacy. That’s among the reasons Minnesota Opera purchased a 224-seat theater a few doors down from its headquarters in Minneapolis’ North Loop: to offer chamber operas ideally experienced at close range. Two share a bill this month, each one-act examining a relationship beset by conflicts common to its time. With 1952’s Trouble in Tahiti, Leonard Bernstein examines the emptiness hiding inside the “American Dream” myth that emerged after World War II. Far lighter in tone is Christopher Weiss and John de los Santos’ comedy Service Provider, in which social media obsession might prove toxic to a marriage.

…(Zoie) Reams is also a standout in Service Provider, although she’s singing the role of a considerably less sympathetic character: a self-absorbed woman constantly interrupting her anniversary dinner to text and post. The “jazz trio” from the earlier opera splits up to portray her dining companions. Baritone Jeremiah Sanders brings edgy exasperation to her husband, who’s mistress (Keely Futterer) has arrived at the restaurant to stir things up. Stealing the scene is tenor Efraín Corralejo as a waiter trying to keep peace and explain tonight’s specials in a suite of three arias, each a parody of a classic operatic style from Composer Weiss’ witty pen.

… So seize the day and experience this excellent example of what small-scale opera can do.