Review: Dark Sisters

New chamber opera explores the human drama of Mormon sect

The women of Dark Sisters share the bond of one man.  But it’s not their unconventional vows that infect the undercurrent of this chamber opera by Nico Muhly and Stephen Karam, but rather the enduring love between mother and child.

While Mormons’ stories are on the upswing, the novelty of women in Snooki-poofs may have reached the end of their shelf life. Drawing inspiration from the headlines, and undoubtedly shows like Big Love and Sister Wives, the writers are tasked with telling a story that has already been told.

The music is haunting, and the premise is familiar. The opera opens with five women, left without even a man to stand by, lamenting in the dry red desert dirt and grieving the loss of their children who’ve been taken by police. (The 2008 Texas raid of a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints compound immediately comes to mind.)With his grumbling bass, their husband and prophet (an ominous Kevin Burdett) spends most of his time away from the home front, only appearing, akin to pimp to prostitute, telling the women to be obedient and “keep sweet.”

It is the women who bear the burden of loss, and loneliness, chanting the names of their missing children one by one. The cast is led by strong performers Caitlin Lynch (Eliza) and Eve Gigliotti (Ruth) who are plagued with doubts and sorrows, for which they both pay a high price.

Each wife suffers uniquely, struggling for resolution equally as characters and in song. Every note reaches beyond the vast earth the characters inhabit, but fails to land on anything harmonious. The dissonant and disparate underscoring may enhance the prickly and percussive emotions of the characters, but it counters the tenderness, like that of a child, they’re longing for.

Dark Sisters is being presented by Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theater Group at John Jay College through November 19. Tickets are available via Ticket Central and by phone at (212) 279-4200.

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