Critics praised Steve Mackey and Opera Theatre St. Louis on the successful World Premiere of his opera Moon Tea both for its clever and vibrant portrayal of an astronomically-significant moment in British history, and for its musical voice as unique as it is skillful and compelling.
George Loomis of Musical America writes: “Of the three 20-minute miniatures, Steven Mackey’s Moon Tea, to a libretto by Rinde Eckert, emerged as the work of greatest imagination and depth. Based on an actual event—the visit by Neil Armstrong and fellow space travelers to Buckingham Palace following their lunar landing in 1969—Moon Tea is a surrealistic imagining of thoughts that occurred in the participants, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. The high point is a mesmerizing aria of truly regal bearing, in a kind of neoclassical style with keyboard accompaniment (these were all chamber operas, using musicians of the St. Louis Symphony), for the Queen (Monica Dewey, in pristine voice), in which she imagines herself on the moon, ‘with specks of moondust’ in her hair, looking down on her small ‘Sceptered Isle.”
Opera News acclaims: “Drollery prevailed in Moon Tea, by composer Steve Mackey and librettist Rinde Eckert, a fanciful reimagining of the encounter between the Queen and Prince Consort of England and the crew of the Apollo 11 flight that first put men on the moon. Prince Philip gets an aria in which he fantasizes about the astronauts’ experience. Neil Armstrong, suffering in his hotel room, from last-minute jitters and a cold, wants to bow out of the royal tea party. His wife Janet will have none of his nonsense; instead she imagines herself forming a best-girlfriend bond with Elizabeth II. The Queen indulges in her own fantasy, imagining herself ‘the first Elizabeth in space.’ Captain Michael Collins breaks a priceless vase at Buckingham Palace, occasioning a Sondheim-like number of rapid-fire, panicked patter. It all ends amicably, as the royals and the Americans salute ‘a giant leap for mankind.’ Mackey’s light-hearted score, punctuated by ‘60s-sci-fi-movie bleeps and bloops, helps sustain the whimsy.”
Rob Levy of ReviewSTL.com praises: “Moon Tea is a gripping piece that plays fast and loose with historical events of 1969 as the Apollo 11 astronauts encounter Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip… Perfectly concise and well-paced, Moon Tea presents a unique perspective on the angst of the rich and famous.”
St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Eric Meyer states: “The whimsical fantasy piece Moon Tea came next. The opera remixes historical events and make-believe in the vein of silent filmmaker Georges Méliès. Apollo 11 astronauts meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip for tea at the palace where imaginations run royally wild.”
In regards to Mackey’s treatment of the narrative, Steve Callahan of Broadway World describes: “She sings her dream of being queen of the moon, drifting weightless and alone in moonlit space. It’s beautifully and gracefully done.” He goes on: “His wonderfully done song of embarrassment—in which he repeatedly drops into stammering mild obscenities—is a lightning-fast patter song like the best of Gilbert & Sullivan.”
Classical Voice North America’s Chuck Lavazzi shares: “The mood shifts towards Monty Pythonesque surrealism in the second opera, Moon Tea… The music and words of Moon Tea seamlessly unite. The result is a whimsical sonic world that combines unorthodox elements such as microtonality and oddball percussion instruments like the flexatone with more conventional techniques minus any hint of a conflict.” He goes on: “Ingenious touches include the ragged sneeze rhythms that repeatedly interrupt Neil Armstrong’s vocal line, the slightly demented, not-quite-a-waltz theme that serves as the basis for the dreamlike scene in which Queen Elizabeth imagines herself Queen of the Moon, and the elaborate, rapid-fire patter song that illustrates Michael Collins’ awkwardness.” In conclusion, he writes: “The opera is facile and often brilliant.”
Tina Farmer of KFHX complimented: “The fluid orchestration is quite whimsical and well matched with touches of unexpected choreography. The design echoes the fantastic story, with clever visual references, a most welcome confetti burst and motifs reminiscent of classical music associated with notable sci-fi movies. The motifs are suggestions through which the libretto, score and actors bounce with near-gleeful inner abandon.”
For more information on Steve Mackey’s Moon Tea (2021), click here.