Carly Simon's Pop Opera

Singer's `Romulus Hunt' includes jazz, reggae - even a little rap

THE last time I saw an opera must have been at least a dozen years ago. So I must be the right person to comment on Carly Simon's new quasi-operatic attempt, "Romulus Hunt," which was commissioned to try to develop new audiences for the performing arts.

The key question is whether or not the one-hour-long production would hold the interest of someone who has not memorized the score of "La Traviata" and could not name many of the world's 10 greatest arias.

On this basis, I can honestly state that "Romulus Hunt" held my attention. I contrast this with the rare occasions that I have attended more traditional opera and (I confess) napped through some of the slower portions of them.

In some ways, "Romulus Hunt" seems closer to a musical than an opera. The music is more "pop" than "op."

The opera includes some moments of jazz, some reggae, even a little rap. There is a point when it sounds like one of the characters is singing to the tune of "You're so Vain," one of Ms. Simon's vintage hits.

In an interview with The New York Times, Simon, who also wrote the lyrics, said that other people wanted to call the show an opera more than she did. Instead, she tried to combine the drama and form of opera with her own music.

On the preview evening, there were a number of children in the audience. This seems fitting, since the aim of the show, underwritten by the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, is to interest young people in opera. Simon and Jacob Brackman, who collaborated on the libretto, consulted children as they brought the show to the stage.

The opera is in English and sung in a way that makes the words understandable. This approach worked most of the time. However, there were moments when the singers - almost all trained in opera - were more interested in technique than communication.

The plot of "Romulus Hunt" is modern and straightforward. It concerns the attempts of 12-year-old Romulus Hunt to cope with his divorced parents and gain the approval of his father. Romulus is played by the talented Andrew Harrison Leeds, who has appeared on Broadway and will soon by seen in a new Michael J. Fox movie.

The opera begins with Romulus practicing the discus throw for the All-City Track Meet. His imaginary friend, a Rastafarian named Zoogy, is encouraging Rom to relax and just throw the discus.

Romulus confesses he is distracted by his desire to reunite his divorced parents, Joanna and Eddie. He and Zoogy hatch a plot to fake some valentines - one from his mother to his father, the other from his dad to his mom. His parents sing one of the opera's best songs, "A Boy of 12 Is Like a Tree."

Rom's hopes are dashed, however, when his parents begin arguing over why Eddie should or shouldn't miss the track meet. Eddie's performance-artist girlfriend, Mica, has an performance that afternoon and Eddie is torn. Romulus yells at both parents to stay home.

Instead, both parents show up at the meet in disguise. They recognize each other, and begin fighting. Romulus sees them and, in a Hollywood type of twist, spins into the bleachers, injuring himself. His mother and his father's girlfriend are at Romulus's hospital bedside. His father is late. When Eddie finally arrives, he realizes he can't ignore his son. The opera ends with father and son reunited, even if the parents remain divorced.

Admittedly, this is not an epic theme. But it does not take years of training to understand the show. For that unsophisticated reason, I think Simon has succeeded.

* `Romulus Hunt' will be performed at the John F. Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater in Washington from April 7-11.

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