Another day, another drowning. Composer Tobias Picker, who turned Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy into an opera for the Met last season, now does the same with Emile Zola's similarly themed Thérèse Raquin. The work, having its New York premiere at the estimable Dicapo Opera Theatre, again shows Picker's skill at using powerful orchestral writing to underscore situations that lead to adultery, murder, guilt, and repentance.
Thérèse Raquin may not be melodious in the usual sense of that word, and Picker's writing for voice is not as dramatically effective as his writing for the orchestra; nevertheless, he grabs the ear with character-defining music. Librettist Gene Scheer (who also wrote the libretto for An American Tragedy) furnishes a poetic text that often matches the music's urgency, building to a climax that skirts tragedy without quite devolving into melodrama.
Thérèse is in a loveless, arranged marriage with Camille Raquin but is dallying on the side with her husband's best friend, Laurent. They snatch whatever moments they can under the watchful gaze of Camille's mother and the friends who gather weekly to play dominoes. Spurred by their lust and the increasing difficulty of arranging assignations, the lovers rent a boat and toss poor Camille overboard. They eventually marry, but their love turns to hate when they're haunted by the (literal) ghost of Camille. Mme. Raquin, who suffers a stroke that destroys her ability to communicate, learns the truth of her son's death but is unable to tell anyone, spending her days glaring at the lovers in reproach. Eventually, the frightened, disillusioned pair kill themselves.
Tenor Peter Furlong is a moving Camille, negotiating an eerie falsetto. Soprano Beverly O'Regan Thiele and baritone David Adam Moore bring considerable sensuality to Thérèse and Laurent. Janice Meyerson is strong as Mme. Raquin, as are Kristin Sampson, Larry B. Small, and Michael Wade Lee as the friends. Conductor Steven Osgood and his chamber orchestra find the score's colors. Michael Capasso stages the piece with an emphasis on its characters' dark frustrations.
Presented by and at Dicapo Opera Theatre,
184 E. 76th St., NYC.
Feb. 16-25. Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4 p.m.
(212) 288-9438, ext. 10 or www.dicapo.com.