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Exploring the silliest and darkest sides of marriage at Wolf Trap Opera

For the concluding offering of an offbeat season, the Wolf Trap Opera has served up a pair of curiosities: “Bastianello” by John Musto and “The Juniper Tree” by Philip Glass and Robert Moran. Though both are based on old tales, there’s little to connect them. The two works explore the silliest and darkest sides of marriage — love blooms (after much comedy) in the first; murderous hatred (out of jealousy) in the second.

Opera at the Barns always involves compromises because of limited space (there are no wings) and budget. Audience imagination is at a premium; both operas prominently feature a tree, but there was none onstage for either, and there was really no set at all for “Bastianello.” There were often problems with the projected surtitles. I’m not convinced of either piece’s long-term value, nor of the effectiveness of pairing them, but this was still an absorbing evening of theater. Director R.B. Schlather handled the most lurid moments of “The Juniper Tree” with startling, Kabuki-like tableaux, and the casts worked energetically to bring out characterization.

Indeed, individual performances have always been the highlight of WTO shows. These young singers, culled through rigorous nationwide auditions, consistently deliver blazing vocalism and stagecraft of the highest quality. Soprano Summer Hassan appeared in both operas, and the glories of her voice fully justified the prominence. Her colleagues were hardly less excellent, and even the tiny roles, taken by apprentice singers, were strikingly well sung.

“Bastianello,” Musto’s third opera, premiered nine years ago. He is a communicative composer, seeking to go beyond scene or character and create music that is memorable on its own terms. The style is a juiced-up…

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