January 21, 2005
For a show with his name in the title, we learn little about Gaveston from "Gaveston, Favourite of the King," an ungainly new chamber opera about Edward II, England's legendary "gay" monarch, immortalized in Christopher Marlowe's play and Derek Jarman's film.
But then, this Gaveston (Charles Alan) is less a character than Edward's (Beau Puckett) precocious queer conscience, challenging this insufficiently "out" public figure to name "what century" they might embrace openly. Lest we miss the point, Gaveston concludes: "No century will let us live side by side."
Director Derek Charles Livingston wants to bring this point home by setting the action in modern dress. But rather than highlight the struggle of same-sex couples for basic civil rights, this choice only makes us wonder what might happen to a contemporary world leader who paraded with a lover of any gender, to whom he'd deeded large, contested swaths of land.
The modern setting also presents us with such unfortunate spectacles as a battle consisting of an ensemble in fatigues stomping around the tiny space and facing off in close range with toy machine guns.
Christopher Winslow's ambitious score for piano, violin and cello has some unexpectedly hummable anthems amid its Britten-esque noodling, and Ken Prestininzi's libretto likewise manages a few evocative dialogues and images amid a legion of cliches about "what happens to a man when he loves."
Among a gamely earnest cast, Blanche Ramirez delivers some rich arias as a beatific nun, and Jack Harding deliciously overplays the conflicted heavy, Lord Mortimer. Still, it's a bad sign for an opera when its best scene is a disarmingly sincere prayer montage that's spoken, not sung.
"Gaveston, Favourite of the King," Celebration Theatre, 7051B Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 20. $25. (323) 957-1884 or www.celebrationtheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes.