The most beautiful music in “The Crucible” came at one of the opera’s saddest moments Saturday night at the Alberta Bair Theater.
Baritone Joshua Lawlor and mezzo-soprano Kristee Haney as John and Elizabeth Proctor are fighting for their honor and their lives as they sit below a hangman’s noose, singing to each other. The urgency of the moment, combined with the tenderness of the music, makes it a stirring moment in an already riveting show.
Their duet is the crux of the message in the opera. What good is life if you must live it without honor? By Act IV, John Proctor has eroded into a shadow of the man he was at the opening for the opera, when he walks into a tense situation and immediately lightens the mood because he is so respected. Others believe that his mere presence will bring order from chaos, created by young girls looking for drama and revenge. Led by the conniving Abigail (Billings native Christie Hageman), several girls feign being possessed by the devil and then start to name others who follow the devil. Hageman, a soprano, performs gorgeous arias as she tries to beguile her one-time lover Proctor.
“The Crucible” is directed by Matt Haney and Barbara Day Turner conducts.
Producer Douglas Nagel points out at the opening of the Rimrock Opera Company production that the “Crucible” play, written by Arthur Miller in 1952, did not win the Pulitzer Prize, but the opera, which came out in 1962, did. Still-living American composer Robert Eugene Ward studied with Aaron Copland and injects jazz into the score, adding complexity to the score’s beautiful melodies.
“The Crucible” is about the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, but it was written by Miller as an allegory about McCarthyism. Miller himself was targeted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities and he wanted to express the dangers of hysteria and blacklisting. There is drama to spare in the plot, as women swoon as if possessed and men kill in the name of God.
Billings native Michelle Berger brings a masterful touch to playing the slave Tituba, giving a calypso vibe to her gospel hymns. Billings vocalists Darren Small and Nancy Downing do a fine job as the Reverend Hale and Rebecca Nurse, two characters who try to bring sanity to the hysteria.
“The Crucible” will be performed Sunday at 3 p.m. at the ABT. Tickets are $36 and $46 at the ABT ticket office.