The world around them is in shambles, they’ll be damned if they don’t keep up appearances. Like the cartoon dog in the burning room, this is fine, they say.
Last Saturday was the world premiere of Dinner At Eight, an opera based on the 1932 play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, at the Minnesota Opera. The libretto by Mark Campbell (Silent Night, The Shining) tells the tale of 1930s New York socialites deluding themselves that the good times are still rolling.
Millicent Jordan (Mary Dunleavy) is trying to keep up with the Joneses, or Ferncliffes, rather, a Lord and Lady who’ve accepted her dinner invitation. Her social network unravels as it assembles for the party—her sick and barely-solvent husband (Stephen Powell), a philandering physician (Andrew Garland), a dried-up former beauty (Brenda Harris), a nouveau riche merchant (Craig Irvin) and his lowbrow Jersey wife (Susannah Biller), and a former star fading in the era of talkies (Richard Troxell.) With their futures all in doubt, they stand by their vain fancy. They sing of comebacks and “staying ahead” as they each, in their own way, fall further behind.
The set, enclosed with a gray, blocky rendering of Manhattan, contributes a sense of dread and confinement. The costumes invoke the imagined glitz, but in an appropriately garish and uncomfortable way. Campbell’s libretto does well to highlight the absurdity of this self-imposed tragedy of manners (“Lobster in aspic!…Imagine their delight, the oohs and aahs, perhaps applause!” coos Dunleavy.)
Tickets remain available for each of the three remaining performances, before the show heads to the Atlanta Opera and Wexford Festival Opera in Ireland.
Dinner At Eight
Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, March 19, 2017 at 2 p.m.
Tickets ($25-$200.) online at mnopera.org, or M-F at the Ticket Office (612)-333-6669. Running time is just over 2 hours, including a 20 minute intermission.