Gabriel's Daughter: The Story of Clara Brown

Clara Brown, born a slave in Kentucky, became a successful businesswoman and community leader in Central City during its heyday as a mining center. She was honored years ago with a stained-glass portrait in the state capitol building. Now she has an opera celebrating her life.

In a continuation of its heralded American series, Central City Opera granted only the fourth commission in its history to Henry Mollicone for a production to honor Brown. The topic was chosen by the company's Artistic Director Emeritus, John Moriarty, based on a play by Roger Baker. William Luce was engaged to write the libretto.

Photo of Lori Brown Mirabal as Clara Brown
Lori Brown Mirabal as Clara Brown
Photo credit: Mark N. Kiryluk
Brown's story is indeed inspirational. During a slave auction, her family is split up, and by the time she amasses enough money to look for them, only one daughter remains alive. But turning a biography into story with dramatic conflict and emotional catharsis is never easy, especially with a woman as moral and saintly as Clara Brown. So, despite Clara's lifetime search for her daughter, her exemplary behavior adds little in the way of dynamics to the story.

And while mezzo-soprano Lori Brown Mirabal provides a strong voice and compelling characterization of the heroine, the repetitive and dissonant nature of the music Mollicone has written for Clara ultimately detracts from the robustness of her epic journey and the melody of her spiritual life. This is unfortunate because Mollicone shows elsewhere he is masterful at incorporating popular and folk themes into his composition. Once again, we see the influence of television and film in the discontinuity of modern orchestration, moving melody to the periphery and reducing themes to incidental atmospherics.

Photo of Alfred Walker as Barney Ford and Chad Shelton as Colonel John Chivington
Alfred Walker as Barney Ford and
Chad Shelton as Col. John Chivington
Photo credit: Mark N. Kiryluk
Supporting Mirabal's impressive performance are bass-baritone Alfred Walker, as the entrepreneur and civil rights pioneer Barney Ford, Chad Shelton, as Colonel John Chivington, the genocidal perpetrator of the Sand Creek Massacre, and soprano Christina Carr as the proverbial golden-hearted brothel owner Jane Gordon.

Luce's breathtakingly poetic libretto is matched by Michael Lasswell evocative sets and David Martin Jacques lighting. John Moriarty leads an assured ensemble.

Central City Opera's world premiere of Gabriel's Daughter: The Story of Clara Brown runs through August 10th in repertory with the double bill of I Pagliacci and Goyescas and L'Italiana in Algeri. 303-292-6700.

Bob Bows


Current Reviews | Home | Webmaster