Stephen Sondheim’s “Passion” premiered in a packed Annex 804 this past week at Eastman. The opera, set in northern Italy in the 1850s, explored issues of love, loss and femininity.

When the male lead, a soldier named Giorgio, was transferred from his hometown, he was forced to leave his married lover, Clara. Upon arrival at his new post, he was introduced to a squadron of rough-talking and seemingly callous men with whom he was expected to work.

A surprise awaited Giorgio. His lieutenant’s cousin, an invalid named Fosca, lived at the house where the soldiers ate and lodged. Fosca fell in love with Giorgio at first sight ? partially because of his kind manners, which contrasted with those of other men in the troop.

The emotion only grew when Giorgio made a confidante of Fosca, telling her of his deep love for Clara.

Chris Streeter somehow brought Giorgio’s contradictory behaviors together so that they made perfect sense. He showed Giorgio’s hesitation to get involved with the troubled Fosca, trying to be kind to her but remaining distant. Streeter’s Giorgio was always compelled by duty and sympathy for Fosca to return to her side, something that eventually culminated in their union.

As Passion progressed, the plot became more complex. Fosca was depressed ? shadowy events in her past which had brought her to this dismal state were revealed. Despite her weakened condition, Fosca seemed to skillfully control every situation in which she played a part. She seemed so honest and open with Giorgio that she won his heart through the intellectual connection that she worked so hard to forge with him.

Clara, Fosca’s female counterpart, was a sincere and surprisingly nave character. Misty Ann Sturm highlighted these qualities and showed Clara to be both practical and devoted to her son.

The production of the opera was wonderful. It was performed in the small opera studio located in Eastman’s Annex, room 804. This intimate atmosphere between the audience and the performers increased the show’s effectiveness, although it decreased the number of people that could watch Passion at each performance.

Passion was obviously a highly anticipated event, as tickets sold out over a week before production, causing the dress rehearsals to be advertised and opened up to the public. While a small block of seats were held each night for those who lacked forethought to purchase tickets well in advance, some people did miss out on a great show.

“I was really disappointed at first that they were performing [Passion] in Annex 804 because I knew seating would be limited,” said sophomore vocal performance and Japanese double degree student Sam Haddad.

“After watching a performance of such intensity and intimacy, I really appreciated the small venue,” he continued.

The cast I saw, one of two, obviously had a deep understanding of their characters’ minds and personalities. This allowed the interactions between the characters to take on roles that looked ? often painfully ? true-to-life. Inner conflicts were portrayed even when no words were spoken, and the plot progression seemed to make more sense because of these silent revelations. Questions about true love arose often along with debates about the role of a woman in a romantic relationship.

The musicality of each cast member was exceptional ? at the high level that has become the standard from students of Eastman’s vocal music department. The performers were able to interweave their musical and dramatic expressions to convey a complete characterization of each personality within the opera.

Although the tragic ending was not a surprise, the journey toward that end was fascinating. It was interesting to watch the thought progression of the characters and witness how their changing thoughts and emotions altered the outcomes of each of their lives ? even when they were fighting to hold onto their original beliefs.

Although the questions raised about love and the role of women in romantic relationships were never answered satisfactorily, it was interesting to view what Sondheim believed were the outcomes of two different views on romance.

All in all, Passion was an opera deserving of an encore ? partly because of its exceptional quality and partly so the people who missed out because of limited space could have a chance to see it.

Additional reporting by Jennifer Weiss.

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