Pictured: Andrew Bidlack, Craig Verm, and chorus. Photo by Cory Weaver.
By Abigail Trabue
There’s an unyielding drive, an unrelenting determination that burns inside an individual who sets out to climb the world’s tallest mountain. To dream of reaching a summit where so few have tread and where so many have fallen is one of grand ambition and ultimate sacrifice. The same could be said of the artist who relentlessly works to bring their creation to life, who dares to place that work in front of an audience night after night, and who, like the climber, will not always reach the top, but when they do, when they stand on the highest peak in the world, the heavens open up and sing.
EVEREST, now playing at the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, is a beautiful example of artists standing on top of the world.
Based on the 1996 true story of climbers Rob Hall, Doug Hansen and Beck Weathers, EVEREST, a stunning opera from Composer Joby Talbot and Lyricist Gene Scheer, is a powerhouse 75 minutes that grabs you the moment you enter the theater and doesn’t let go until the last note fades into darkness.
Featuring a vocally phenomenal cast that blisters with emotion, and under the uncommonly innovative direction of Leonard Foglia, EVEREST superbly marries rich storytelling with masterful musicianship. Talbot’s electrically charged score and Scheer’s honest and emotionally driven lyrics embody the world of Mt. Everest and the Himalaya’s that surround it. Robert Brill’s cubist set, paired with the chaotically graceful projection design from Elaine McCarthy, is a living, breathing work of art. McCarthy’s projections take us from the top of the world to the mountain base, to homes thousands of miles away, and deep within frost bitten hallucinations. Yet, Brill and McCarthy are not alone in this creative juggernaut. Costumer David C. Woolard, Wig and Makeup Designer Alison Hanks, Sound Designer Ra Byn Taylor and Lighting Designer Russell Champa bring subtle detail and specificity to the piece. The frostbite that slowly takes over, the gear-laden costumes, the use of shadow and light, and the balance between chorus, principals, and musicians (who often find themselves at wonderfully dissonate odds) are elemental examples that contribute to a masterful collaborative design.
Following the opening night performance Talbot, Scheer and survivor Dr. Beck Weathers gave a talkback and shared insight into the creation of EVEREST. They were gracious and answered many standard questions, like “which came first the music or the lyrics?” but the most profound moment came when Dr. Weathers was asked what it was like to watch his story play out on the stage. A question that was on the tip of many tongues in the room. Dr. Weathers calmy, but emotionally replied, “It’s so immediate. I almost cannot look at it.”
EVEREST is part of a turning point in modern opera. There is a strong desire for stories more closely connected to the times we live in. For work that is relevant and no longer uses the same plots and gimmicks. Audiences are craving a closer connection to the performing arts, and while that does not mean the classics do not belong in the room, it does mean more works like EVEREST must be in the room and need to be fostered. I commend Lyric Opera of Kansas City for taking a chance on this show, for seeing its value and believing in their audiences ability to take this journey. I hope this is not the last time Talbot/Scheer collaborate, nor the last time we see their work on the stage of the Lyric.
EVEREST runs through November 19th. For more information visit kcopera.org.