'Face', 'Starbird'

One should not talk of quality in Henry Mollicone's two works. But at least "Face on the Barroom Floor" offers a wonderfully entertaining 24 minutes of mini-opera. Written for Central City, Colo., where there actually is a face painted on the barroom floor, the work re-creates the story of that face in good melodic line. It offers fine vocal challenges for a soprano, a baritone, and a tenor. In their respective parts, soprano Kay Paschal, tenor Carroll Freeman, and particularly Robert Galbraith, managed with flair and commitment.

"Starbird" is a children's opera that, as seen on a desperately cramped high school stage, did not take wing. The music lacks genuine inspiration as it tells the tale of a cat, a dog, and a mule, who want something better in their lives. The Starbird comes along from outer space, and makes them forget their differences, as they unite to save her from an icy fate on a faraway planet that makes Earth look like a paradise.

The Starbird's music is deliciously perfumed neo-Russian exotica that offers a good coloratura -- in this case the impressive Kathy Wright -- a chance to shine. But the rest of the score sounds too contrived to be particularly convincing. The Maxine Willi Klein production -- or what little we actually saw of it, so small was the space -- looked magical and indicated what a fine effect it would have made on a suitable stage.

One can complain about the work but not about the dedication of all the Texas Opera Theater performers on stage and in the pit. One looks forward to encountering a better new work that will one day emerge from either the workshop or the studio. For Texas Opera Theater is bursting with talent --onstage and backstage -- and dedication. Would that more opera companies would make so important a commitment to helping young singers and composers master their craft the way they should. Such training should not take place on the big stages of America where they and their au diences are invariably compromised.

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