Doubt takes a musical leap of faith

Petronella Ytsma

John Patrick Shanley's meditation on the slippery nature of truth and faith comes in a new form with this world-premiere opera. The story remains the same. At a Bronx Roman Catholic church and school in the mid-1960s, a nun believes that a popular young priest has made advances toward one of the boys. Her dogged pursuit of her suspicions, and his continual denials, make up the meat of the story. Some of the nuance, especially in the interplay between the two, gets lost by telling the tale in music. But the opera does build a sense of doubt that not only inhabits the main characters but sinks deep into the community as a whole. Douglas J. Cuomo's relentless score makes a perfect match for the story, drawing us deeper into a situation that presages the confusion — in the church, the country, and the world at large — that has begun to bubble and will boil over in the years to come. The four leads give terrific performances, especially Christine Brewer as Sister Aloysius, the accuser, and Denyce Graves as the boy-in-question's mother, who has her own reasons to keep the possible abuse quiet and her son in the school. While the opera lacks the deft touch and pace of the original (each act here is about as long as the original play), the creators, artists, and creative team, especially set designer Robert Brill, make this production a worthy addition to the story's life.

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