“Mark Abel has devoted most of his composing career to writing song cycles, including those represented on two previous Delos releases. The current disc is a recording of his first opera, Home is a Harbor. Abel spent some formative years as a rock musician, and he has a knack for integrating catchy, interesting grooves into a comfortably tonal but frequently creative classical style. The composer wrote what is essentially a prose libretto for his opera, which could have led to some meandering in the score, but the rock and jazz elements help to provide form and structure.
Abel’s decidedly contemporary story has potential: Lisa and Laurie, twin sisters from California’s central coast, set out on their respective paths in the world — one as an artist in Brooklyn, the
other as a banker in Irvine, California. Both encounter shallowness and professional disillusionment, return home and vow to do some good in the world, speciﬁcally by creating an organization to help homeless veterans. The characters are realistic and the situations are relevant. The libretto is ﬁrmly in the vernacular (“Awesome dinner, mom. Hey, Lisa, let’s hit the beach before the sun goes down”) … (and) the music is unfailingly pleasant (except for one deliberately bad pop song heard in a club).
The singers, led by sopranos Jamie Chamberlin and Ariel Pisturino, are particularly well perched along the spectrum between opera and musical theater, which makes them perfectly suited to this crossover piece. All the vocals land with immediacy. Among the other gifted cast members are baritone Babatunde Akinboboye, as Laurie’s ill-fated boyfriend Lance; baritone E. Scott Levin, as Laurie’s creepy, amoral boss; and bass Carver Cossey, who creates a vivid portrait of Lou, an elderly poet. Janelle DeStefano demonstrates versatility playing both the twins’ warm-hearted mother and Lisa’s cynical, inﬂexible SoHo art dealer. Nimble tenor Jon Lee Keenan is amusingly superﬁcial as Lisa’s all-talk-and-no-action slacker boyfriend. The instrumentalists of La Brea Sinfonietta under Benjamin Makino do exceptionally well with Abel’s hybrid style, which includes imaginative use of electric organ.
The disc also contains a cycle for piano and voice called The Palm Trees Are Restless, settings of five poems by Kate Gale. (Abel) provides empathetic musical illumination of Gale’s personal, expressive poetry, and is attentive to the melodic contours implied by her phrases. The best song is the Weill-esque “Crater Light,” which depicts a frank barroom encounter and a divorce over sexual incompatibility. The always-impressive Hila Plitmann, a specialist in contemporary art song, sings with a plush, enveloping tone and amazingly clear diction all the way to the top of her range. Pianist Tali Tadmor is her adept and sensitive partner. — Joshua Rosenblum, Opera News