Milton Berliner
Washington Daily News 12-21-70

Thank you, Virgil!

What a splendid Christmas present American composer Virgil Thomson gave the Washington Opera Society when he refused to give the necessary approval for its proposed production of his opera, "Four Saints in Three Acts."

If he hadn't said no, the Opera Society would not have come up with Frederick Delius' "Koanga" and thereby make musical history.

"Four Saints . . ." would undoubtedly have been interesting and possibly entertaining, but by giving the American premiere of "Koanga" ? and such a splendid one both in performance and production ? the Opera Society has again acheived the praise and prestige it gained with the world premiere of Ginastera's "Bomarzo" on May 19, 1961.

Not that "Koanga" (the final performance is tonight at 7:30 at Lisner Auditorium) is in a class with "Bomarzo." The latter is a unified creative accomplishment.

"Koanga," on the other hand, got its major strength from the director Frank Cosaro's contemporary staging ? photographic projections on front and rear scrims to develop just the sort of atmosphere "Koanga" needs to give it some life.

The exceptionally fine film in color and black and white was the work of scenery designer Ronald Chase who got a strong assist from lighting designer Nananne Porcher.

There were a few boos when Cosaro came on stage opening night to take a bow with the cast but "Koanga" would have been a static bore without this sort of staging.

Musically, Delius' lyricism was handsomely sustained by conductor Paul Callaway and the orchestra which was, I think, the largest ever used in Lisner by the Opera Society.  And Claudia Lindsey scored a real triumph in the role of Palmyra, the mulatto slave on an old New Orleans plantation whose love for Koanga comes to a tragic end.

Eugene Holmes (the role will be sung by Edward Pierson tonight) was powerful both vocally and in presence as Koanga, and there were reasonably good assists from William McDonald, Will Roy and Joyce Gerber in the other principal roles. The Opera Society Chorus sounded fine, and Joseph Bella's costumes were outstanding.