The world premiere comes from North Carolina native Chandler Carter, already known to Long Leaf audiences from the 2007 production of his admirable full-length opera Strange Fruit. His new one-act, Mercury Falling, only strengthens his reputation as an inspired musician.
The 40-minute monodrama concerns the last night in the life of French sculptor Jean-Louis Brian, who died in 1864 from hypothermia in an unheated studio. He had used his few blankets to wrap his just-completed statue of the god Mercury to keep it from freezing and cracking. Librettist Daniel Neer fancifully envisions what is going through Brian's head that night, as the sculptor readies himself for a comeback after an early splash of fame. As the cold sets in, Brian begins to hallucinate, imagining that the statue is alive, telling it all his hopes for a success at an upcoming exhibition.
Carter's score for two players at one piano (ably performed by Viktor Valkov and Benjamin Smith, under Carter's baton) beautifully conjures icy coldness with tinkling short phrases and fevered delirium with dissonant, skittering chords. The music constantly changes to fit Brian's mood swings... this is a confident, intriguing work.
—Roy Dicks, The Raleigh News and Observer, June 20, 2009
The four hands on one piano provided music that was in turns mystical, affectionate, conflicted, triumphant, and much more, reflecting the monologue (and, at times, implied dialogue) and action on the stage. The sculptor admires his work, becomes suspicious of it, angry with it, at one with it. Szczypeks athletic dancing and Neers singing took us through emotional paroxysms of immense proportions. As hypothermia drives him to hallucinations, his words and actions become more and more bizarre, reaching a climax when he pushes the statue off its pedestal. Horrified at his own irrational behavior he carefully sets his Mercury upright back on its platform. Eventually the overwhelming desire to sleep leads him to lie down and give way to his death knowing, it seems, that his work will survive him and live on in honor and respect.
it was a strangely and powerfully moving drama. It brought to mind those same issues that Thomas Mann (and Benjamin Britten) delved into in Death in Venice. What is it about beauty that so disarms us? What is it about great art that is often both deeply unsettling and uniquely satisfying?
—Ken Hoover Classical Voice of North Carolina, June 19, 2009