The other brief opera presented last week at Roulette by Ear Heart Music, American Opera Projects, and the American Modern Ensemble took a much more traditional approach to the theatricality of opera. While The Wanton Sublime was a static, largely plot-less monologue, The Companion was a fairly straightforward musical play, with conventional scenes, dialogue, conflict, and arias. If The Wanton Sublime was a meditation on the duality of the idealized woman, both pristine, virginal, yet still manifestly physical, The Companion is a bedroom farce about the idealized man, or at least technology’s efforts to create one.
The second in a trilogy of sex themed miniatures from composer Robert Paterson and librettist David Cote, The Companion tells the story of a robotic mate, a Blade Runner-ish android that is custom built to take care of one’s domestic and carnal needs. As is often the case in such stories, the technology has some glitches, not quite living up to the marketing hype.
The piece is charming and likable. The text is well set and well sung, with conventional arias for each character eliciting enthusiastic applause. Brandon Snook, as Joe, the robotic sex toy, exudes a Ken doll appeal with the comedic sensibilities to pull off the glitchy non-sequiturs of his underperforming AI module. His owner, the increasingly frustrated executive Maya (Nancy Allen Lundy), already in debt from the purchase, overextends herself further in an effort to upgrade to a flashier model, bringing in Kyle Guglielmo as her very much flesh and blood tech support guy, Dax. Dax is a good deal hunkier than your average robotics software nerd, a darker, stubblier foil to Joe’s wax and polish, yet his advances are spurned. Why Maya would prefer Joe’s antiseptic distance to Dax’s immediate presence is a mystery that the libretto doesn’t convincingly address. Instead we’re left with Dax’s rueful musing that humans are “broken machines”.
Ultimately, the story is rather thin. The plot twists in the third act arrive already undermined since Dax’s attraction to Maya is spelled out in the second act, and Joe’s own surprise paramour is strongly hinted at back in the first. The premise itself is well worn, and would have benefited from a fresh angle other than the novelty of the operatic voice. Instead the story is largely limited to the same tropes found in any number of science fiction stories topped with a sudden and largely unconvincing resolution. One can’t help but feel that Cote’s bright libretto, Paterson’s lovely score, and the strong performances throughout would have been better served by a few more revisions of the story early on in the process. Like its titular robot, The Companion is eager to please, but could use a bit more meat under its skin.