Hugo Vera bellowed and Gage Hall quivered. As titular son in Charleston Chamber Opera's rendition of Debussy's “L'enfant prodigue,” the Metropolitan Opera-contracted tenor was all clench-fist-faced and glassy-eyed; his tenacious wail bounced off the all-wood interior and made the already tiny room feel like a closet — a really gorgeous closet.
The production was inundated with seclusion and grief, but the melancholy was hewn by redemption, by familial loyalty and, according to the rousing final fermata, God's salvation.
Everything up until the unified cheers of piety that close the cantata was immersive and enthralling, melodrama on an implausibly intimate scale.
The prodigal son (Vera) leaves home to pursue the world's many pleasures and, before his imminent return, his mother (artistic director and soprano Patrice Tiedemann, who possesses a lovely voice) and his father (Christian Elser, whose baritone booms like a baritone should) suffer heartbreak and sorrow. They, of course, welcome him with loving hearts and all was well.
The production incorporated dance, courtesy of the Charleston Dance Institute and choreographed by Marka Danielle. The three young dancers moved fluidly and with a light touch, their delicate leaps and twirls barely made a sound on the hardwood. (A barefoot guy taking pictures made more noise walking around than the dancers did.)
One particular sequence reflected the main theme that courses Debussy's work: Both love and art have winners and losers. Two young dancers faced off in a short competition while their teachers watched and crowned a victor. The glowing winner jetes off; the loser drags her feet in the other direction, her mentor's arm slumped around her neck.
By the end of the production the prodigal son has returned home and both dancers were moving in fluvial sync. It seemed that everyone won.
Greg Cwik is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.