Gbeldahoven: No One's Child | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Gbeldahoven: No One's Child 

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Regina Harris Baiocchi is a talented though wildly uneven composer whose instinct-driven music veers between sophistication and naivete. Her strength is vocal writing that borrows from a wide variety of idioms to evoke specific times and emotions; her weakness is her orchestration, which often fails to elaborate on or sustain a musical idea. As a result, even the best of her works have the feel of pastiche. Gbeldahoven, a 90-minute one-act opera based on the fateful collaboration between Harlem Renaissance writers Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston under the patronage of Manhattan socialite Charlotte Mason, is Baiocchi's most ambitious work to date. In Mason's luxurious Park Avenue penthouse, Hughes and Hurston, dictating to a stenographer, fashioned a play about rivalries among religious congregations serving the black community. Then they bickered over authorship, and the play was never produced. Carefully skirting copyright hassles, Baiocchi has come up with a well-researched story in which the complicated relationships between Hughes, Hurston, and Mason unfold in the course of collaborating on a different play, one about the importance of asserting one's individuality. Mason's ambivalence toward blacks, Hughes's macho swagger, and Hurston's softer defiance and mild jealousy come across vividly in the libretto; the music, consisting of 13 arias and dance tunes, is quintessential Baiocchi: an amalgam of styles that includes blues, spirituals, and chant. "How It Feels to Be Colored Me " is a Kurt Weillian confession; "I Am Not Tragically Colored" is a bluesy lament; "Friday Night," sung by the stenographer who flirts with Hughes, is a jazzy huzzah. For this first performance of the opera, the resourceful Baiocchi has assembled a fine cast headlined by tenor Timothy Graham (Hughes), soprano Marcya Daneille (Hurston), soprano Anisha McFarland (Mason), and the enchanting jazz singer Bobbi Wilsyn (the stenographer). A small instrumental ensemble, under Baiocchi's direction, accompanies, though the score is intended for a chamber orchestra. Sunday, 2 PM, auditorium, Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State; 747-4850 or 922-3922.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Regina Harris Baiocchi photo by Pete Thurin.


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