EmptyNew York State Theater, Lincoln Center
Using as her source material the same true-life story that inspired her award-winning novel (and subsequent film version) "Beloved," Toni Morrison has written the libretto for Richard Danielpour's new opera "Margaret Garner." This tale of a young slave who murdered one of her children to prevent it from a life of bondage is well-served by the composer's accessible and often-powerful music. It has been given an estimable staging by the New York City Opera and, considering the paucity of operas dealing with black themes, should well find a place in the repertory.
The work has a simplicity and starkness reminiscent of Greek tragedy, but it also contains one devilish (and true) plot twist. That occurs in Act 2, when Margaret goes on trial for the killing. The charge, however, is not one of murder but rather destruction of property, as the slave owner contends that the child was property that belonged to him.
Director Tazewell Thompson has provided a simple yet highly effective staging, with Donald Eastman's unobtrusive farmhouse set design infusing the proceedings with an appropriate bleakness.
Debuting as a librettist, Morrison proves herself well-capable of the form, even if she occasionally veers too often in the direction of simplistic rhyming. Danielpour's music, while it contains few truly memorable passages, is consistently melodic and particularly effective in the stirring choral passages, which have an inevitable gospel feel.
Tracie Luck delivers a superbly sung and emotive performance in the title role, with sterling contributions as well from Lisa Daltirus as Margaret's mother-in-law and the strong-voiced baritones Gregg Baker as her husband and Timothy Mix as the villainous slave owner.