Billed as a chamber opera, the six-actor piece is based on a story by ETA Hoffmann, of Nutcracker fame, and tells of Nathanael (played by tenor Christian Sebek), who is haunted by his childhood experiences with a mysterious man named Coppelius (played by bass Gregory Rahming), thought to be the evil Sandman who punishes children if they don't go to sleep. Nathanael's sense of reason fades when the Sandman — apparently responsible for the death of Nathanael's father (tenor Steven Goldstein) years ago — apparently returns.
The cast includes soprano Sherrita Duran (as love interest Clara), baritone Jay Johnson (as friend Sigmund) and soprano Violetta Zambetti (as a bizarre new love interest, Olympia).
Target Margin's version of the 19th-century tale (also seen as the ballet, Coppelia, and in Offenbach's opera, Tales of Hoffmann) is composed by Thomas Cabaniss, with libretto by Cabaniss, Douglas Langworthy and Target Margin's founding artistic director, David Herskovits.
The Sandman was first staged at the 99-seat Connolly in April 2002 in a season devoted to opera related works. The 2003 staging, Herskovits told Playbill On-Line, includes two new cast members, new scenic elements and new costumes. Doing an exact repeat of the 2002 experience didn't interest Herskovits, he said.
Why is The Sandman back nine months after its debut? "The No. 1 reason is that we loved the show and wanted more people to see it, " Herskovits said. "We felt like there would be plenty of people out there who still want to see it. The nature of opera being what it is, the thing was only performed half or less than half as many times as we usually do [runs] because they don't perform every night. They're not going to sing it every day — the lead role, the guy is singing on stage almost all the time. People who saw it, talked about it and then there were people who became aware of it and wanted to see it."
In Target Margin's so-called "opera season," the troupe staged the non-musical Beaumarchais play, The Marriage of Figaro, and explored elements of Wagner's Ring cycle in lab stagings.
The concept of The Sandman emerged in 1999 and was composed and developed over the years toward the mainstage run. "There are arias, there's a mad scene, we try to invoke and celebrate operatic convention in a way that is loving and also enlightening for everybody," Herskovits said, adding that the story is dark, but the production is also quite playful.
"It's full of silly, goofy, fun things and then along the way the story gets darker and darker and stranger and stranger," Herskovits said. "It becomes quite troubling in a way. There's a high level of mystery in it. I'm very attracted to material that does not yield up all of its mysteries"
Designers for are Erika Belsey Worth (scenic), Lenore Doxsee (lighting), David Zinn (costume), Tim Schellenbaum (sound). Music director is David Rosenmeyer.
Performances are Jan. 8, 10, 12, 14, 17 and 18. Tickets are $20 ($15 for students with ID). The Connnelly Theater is on East Fourth Street between Avenues A and B. For tickets, call (212) 358-3657. Visit www.targetmargin.org