Charles T. Downey for 

"The first work, Lifeboat, was the best of the evening. A compactly constructed libretto by Emily Roller explored the conflicts among three victims of a shipwreck, marooned together in an inflatable lifeboat. Good libretto construction is quite different from simply writing a play that will be set to music, since the lines to be sung should optimally fit into the composer’s musical plan. Roller’s libretto meshed beautifully with the score by Matthew Peterson. Seeming to have resulted from input from both composer and librettist, the opera moved from a tumultuous opening ensemble, as three refugees on the Mediterranean Sea cut the lifeboat free from their sinking ship, through compelling aria moments, and into a moving final ensemble.

Mezzo-soprano Daryl Freedman has been one of the most potent voices to come out of WNO’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program in recent years. Leading a cast made up mostly of her colleagues in that program, she was at the top of her vocal game as the Doctor, who mediates the growing antagonism between the Soldier and the Professor on either side of her. In the opera’s central aria, “Another body,” the Doctor gives a sort of autopsy report on the young refugee girl’s body brought to the surface by the Professor’s fishing line. As Peterson’s score marshaled the growing power of the small orchestra, Freedman was able to soar above it in a thrilling way.

Soprano Raquel González also brought a powerful edge to the agitated role of the Soldier, especially in the exasperated aria “Remain calm,” in reaction to the title phrase written in the lifeboat’s safety manual. The more plaintive side of her voice came out as with equal success well in the later aria “Have you ever seen,” wherein the Soldier reveals her own loss of an infant son. Baritone Andrew McLaughlin was effective in the supporting role of the Professor. As the strings mimicked the cries of seagulls, the three voices blended together in the striking final ensemble, “If only we were birds,” during which the characters realize with some finality that they may not survive. Peterson showed admirable mastery of both vocal writing and colorful orchestration, with some interesting touches of percussion (ratchet, glockenspiel) in particular."

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