A Philip Glass opera and remembering B Berkeley

by Rob Tiller

Sally and Jocelyn at the Mill House Inn, East Hampton, New York

Thursday night I went with friends to see the NC Opera’s production of Les Enfants Terrible by Philip Glass. I was interested for three reasons: I like some of Glass’s minimalist music, I like to support the NC Opera, and this production was billed as a dance opera. Ricky Weiss, artistic director of the Carolina Ballet, choreographed and directed the production.

I liked it. The story is a strange, surreal, dark tale of a brother and sister who are close — too close. The music is both driving and dreamlike. Each character had two physical bodies — a singer and a dancer — and each body expressed part of the emotional reality. This opened up interesting expressive possibilities. Opera fans are familiar with the enormous range of emotional possibilities from singing plus acting, and adding dance in as a vital element was fascinating.

One problem, though, was that the dancers could so easily steal their scenes, without meaning to. They are so much more graceful and expressive than ordinary humans, and even more than trained actors. At times it was difficult to give equal weight to the non-dance parts of the action, because the dancers were so compelling. The singing was rather good, particularly the soprano Jessica Cates as Lise. But her dancer twin, Lara O’Brien, had tremendous emotional range, and a kind of wildness. I thought the idea of the singer-dancer pairs was great, and worth exploring further.

The next day Sally and I flew to New York to attend the memorial service for her father, Norborne Berkeley, Jr., affectionately known to my generation as B. Gabe and Jocelyn flew in from Colorado and we rendezvoused at a hotel near La Guardia, then drove out to East Hampton. I was so happy to see the kids! We stayed in a lovely bed and breakfast called The Mill House Inn. It was good to see the Berkeley side of the family, and revive happy memories of East Hampton from our younger days.

We drove by the old Berkeley place in Bridgehampton and did a little shopping in East Hampton. I bought Gabe a pair of corduroy pants and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, on the sole condition that once he finished it he tell me his impressions. Such a rich book, and I know too few people who have read it. It snowed six inches that night.

The service on Saturday was in an Episcapol church and was well attended despite the snow. It had a heavier religious component than I expected from this relatively unreligious family. But Bill Berkeley did a fine job in his eulogy recognizing the strengths and accomplishments of B, and the good qualities we’ll want to remember. B meant a great deal in my own life, and I’ll miss him.