Doubt (verb): to lack confidence in; to consider unlikely; to fear; distrust. John Patrick Shanley wrote the play “Doubt” in 2005, adapted it to a film in 2008 and has now created the libretto for the world premiere opera at the Ordway in St. Paul. The production was one of the more beautifully crafted pieces of art I have seen in some time.
Stepping into the Ordway I noticed patrons were dressed very well. Nowadays some people dress up for shows but formal attire is not required. The opera however, seems to be a different breed. Dresses, fitted shirts, slacks and dress coats were more of the norm. I appreciate getting dolled up for productions so I felt right at home. After walking into the theater itself, my eyes were drawn to the orchestra pit. Chairs had been removed to allow for more than thirty musicians. Never have I been to a production where the audience applauded after tuning; not just before the show started, but at the beginning of the second act as well. Clearly they were looking forward to the production. It did not disappoint.
The curtain opened to eight looming pillars, four hanging candles, a spotlight on Christ on the cross, a children’s choir, adults squished together on pews and the priest about to give a sermon. The magnificence of the set captured the Catholic Church so well that I forgot I was in a theater. I was drawn in and so was everyone else.
We travel back to St. Nicholas Catholic School in the Bronx in 1964. It is a time where Civil Rights are at the forefront, Church Reform is starting to take place and there is the threat of global conflict. Father Flynn (Matthew Worth) is giving a sermon on doubt. He sings “Doubt can be a bond as sustaining as certainty.” A profound statement. Sister Aloysius (Christine Brewer) is a stern woman and is skeptical of this new priest. She has her eye on him from the very beginning. Their school has just accepted its first African American child, Donald Miller. Father Flynn becomes his protector from bullying and is accused of indecency towards him. Sister James (Adriana Zabala) has suspicions that are only heightened due to Sister Aloysius who says “Innocence can only be wisdom in a world without evil.” The message causes us all to ponder, in a world of uncertainty, what are you certain about?
Strong voices and repeated phrases helped drive the lines home. Although the opera was in English, the articulation and pronunciation was helpful due to the fact that there were only floor microphones. Little elements pieced the story together very well. Leaves falling in the garden, feathers floating out of a pillow, and framed scenes which made my heart melt. The use of the lighting and movement of set pieces were so precise that flaws were nowhere to be found. The story line was mostly serious bordering on doubt and certainty. Audience engagement in any production is key. In the first act there were a few scenes that left room for laughter. When there were funny lines, the audience chuckled loudly.
As the actors started taking bows, patrons stood quickly. They had done their job and performed a piece that struck a chord with the audience. “Doubt” was a sombering experience, but walking out I was very satisfied and it seemed many others were as well. Up next, the Minnesota Opera presents “Hamlet” March 2-10th. http://www.mnopera.org/