Let me start by sharing that the concept of opera spoilers makes me giggle. I’m not going to bother about spoiler boxes because it’s not a new opera, nor a new story.
Our local opera company ended out the season with A Handmaids Tale. I had been almost-dreading the evening all season…concerned that the power of the story combined with the power of opera would have me stumbling home a wrung-out mess. Sadly, I was not impressed, which is a pity as I loved the book and have read it several times.
On second thought, having read the book may be part of the problem…perhaps when people are raving about this opera, they’re really raving about the story? It’s certainly powerful but I was familiar enough with the story that I viewed the evening strictly in terms of opera.
Another issue I had was the costuming which, IMHO, totally sucked. No red dresses for handmaids, blue for wives, etc., no being covered head to foot with only face showing, the Wives didn’t even wear matching uniforms and the Aunts looked like Victorian housemaids.
The flashback technique was interesting, but again the costuming got in the way - everyone in the flashbacks wore (horribly clashing) strident shades of green. Even the sur-titles were green during the flashbacks. I get the connection with the forest back-drop at the end (green=freedom. whatever) but it was just too belabored.
From notes in the libretto, I’m wondering if this was a local costuming choice. If so, I think it was a poor choice.
Finally, though not to my personal taste, I could deal with the atonal, drum-heavy orchestration. What I couldn’t get around was the weird sing-song score. It sounded like they had written the words as free-verse and then remembered “oh yeah - they’re supposed to sing it”. Actually, it really reminded me of getting goofy with my brother when we were young - singing every thing we were doing (“I’m washing the Diiiiiiissshhhhes…because they’re dir-rty! And must be washed! Washing, I tell you!”) (we amused us, which is what counts).
Anyway, I’m interested in hearing other viewpoints