Fringe 2009 – FFA 2 – Two Short Operas


“Who the hell left 54 little bars of Camay in my room?!”

The Dead Composers Society

Two Short Operas: Mr. Berman’s Bath-Size Bar and There’s a Mastodon In My Backyard

Opera? At the Fringe? Yes! It’s in English. It’s funny. None of the singers weigh 300 lbs. The Dead Composers Society, a Twin Cities-based group of young musicians, presents two short comic (and a little absurd) operas by Minneapolis composer Stephen Houtz. Based on a combination of popular urban legends, the operas explore the ridiculous side of human interaction. Mr. Berman’s Bath-Size Bar follows the correspondence between the staff of a London hotel and an increasingly-exasperated resident on a futile quest to use his own personal bar of soap. In There’s a Mastodon in My Backyard, a wealthy and eccentric woman’s discovery of what appear to be ancient fossils in her backyard sets off a chain reaction of excitement, skepticism, and scientific fervor within the ranks of the Smithsonian Institute – but the action becomes a race against time when the woman reveals her own plans for the bones.

It was mighty funny, I’ll give it that. The excerpt was from Mr. Berman’s Bath-Size Bar. An obsessive compulsive hotel guest runs afoul of an obsessive compulsive maid service. He just wants to use his own big bar of soap. They are required to leave new tiny bars of soap each day. Things get out of hand.

These performers had those big opera voices – highly trained, enunciating the lyrics to within an inch of their lives and bouncing them off all four walls of the theater. No trouble with volume on these folks. You could hear everything very clearly.

A big part of the humor here comes from these incredibly versatile voices being put in service of a silly little idea. Operas are often about big, sweeping emotions. Tragedy on a grand scale. This was about… well, soap.

Which was where it all kind of started to fall apart for me. Everyone involved in this enterprise – composer, director, music director, singers – are extremely talented. And they’re expending all that talent on… little bars of soap. It’s funny, and fluffy. And maybe that’s all it needs to be.

Maybe too much of a good thing directed at a wisp of an idea is a great problem to have. Plus, there’s dinosaur bones and frazzled scientists in the second piece. Maybe that one, though also a comedy, may have a little more going on underneath it.

There are certainly worse ideas than choosing to spend time in the musical company of all these people. They’re not likely to be topped in terms of talent in the musical theater category.

Maybe I just need to look at it differently. Maybe, just like sometimes dance doesn’t need a plot, it’s just a treat to watch the movement, here, it’s just a treat to sit back and listen. And giggle a bit.

The Fringe’s YouTube page should have the preview video clip up in the next couple of days, so check back and see (and listen) for yourself. Some other online resources…

Their website –

Their show page