Creating the Dragon: Music Workshop Review

September 23, 2011

Posted by Eric Brower


“Oh my god, the bomb!”

“What bomb, Jerry?”

(cue epiphanic piano roll)

It took one listen at the rehearsal for last weekend’s Slaying the Dragon workshop for composer Michael Ching to pull out his red pen at this dramatic moment.  Amongst a score of organically-crafted hymns, lush duets, and ethnically-influenced motives of all kinds, there was no room, in his opinion, for ‘corny’ emotional cues.

After a composer spends hours upon hours at his piano, day after day, one can imagine how the ear adjusts once he finally removes himself from his own music.  The workshop series, which included a Saturday evening session in Philly and a Sunday afternoon session in Wilmington, gave Michael and librettist Ellen Frankel their long-awaited first materialization of their collaboration in progress.

The creative duo of “dragon slayers” were prone to absorption of the workshop crowd’s comments, which were solicited immediately via a question-and-answer portion that followed the music.  A smart move, considering the emotional content of the opera and the wide range of personal reactions they anticipate from the audience at its June 2012 premiere.  Can a Grand Dragon of the KKK truly turn from his wickedness, and can that person be forgiven for his evil past?  Realizing that a music workshop places limits on the portrayal of plot and character development, the audience offered intuitive insight on how the transformation from evil to good can be more digestible.

Three returning sophomores of CCOT’s Young Artist Program filled the three lead roles of Slaying the Dragon for the workshop.  Chris Lorge used his vibrant tenor voice to transform the hissing Jew-hater Jerry into a sobbing, remorseful cripple.  Baritone Paul Corujo and Soprano Jen Braun, as rabbi Nathan and wife Vera, displayed the confidence necessary to embrace the duality of humankind.

Newcomers to this year’s Young Artist Program bring a colorful array of sound and a new kind of ambitious energy to the forefront of CCOT.  Soprano Jennifer Hoffmann brought frustrating warmth and fragility to her reading of a weathered Holocaust survivor, making the redemption of our main protagonist a much harder pill to swallow.  Baritone Bob Davidson had the crowd jubilantly torn in deciding which translation of “Hinay ma tov” (Hebrew or English) to sing in funk-gospel style.

CCOT’s new pianist-coach David Hsu could not have received enough praise for his spot-on one-man accompaniment, though he almost did.