We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Alessandra Ferri and Fredrika Brillembourg--Photo by Richard Termine
As part of the New York Philharmonic Biennial, the estimable Gotham Chamber Opera is presenting an avant-garde music-theater piece based on Edgar Allen Poe's chilling poem The Raven.  It can be considered a perfect piece for a festival--original, challenging and outside the customary artistic limits.  Two pages of the program were required for Conductor and Artistic Director Neal Goren and Director/Choreographer/Set Designer Luca Veggetti to explain their inspiration and artistic goals.

We were left wondering at what point in our cultural history music became sound, dance became movement, and singing became vocalizing.  The capacity audience seemed to appreciate the event to a greater extent than we did, leaving us feeling like an old fogey with our 19th c. ears.  The anxiety and horror of Poe's poetry was successfully conveyed but that was not enough to leave us feeling artistically fulfilled.

Toshio Hosokawa's music, while not to our taste, was beautifully played by the Gotham Chamber Opera Orchestra.  But watching the singer and dancer moving around the stage only made us miss Alessandra Ferri's luminous and deeply affecting dancing with ABT.  Mezzo Fredrika Brillembourg's vocalizing--at first, artificial speech, then sprechstimme, made us wonder at the enormous effort she must have made to learn the work.  As is common in contemporary music there was no melodic line to hold onto.

The two women, dressed in identical dull gray pants and sweatshirts (Costume Design by Peter Speliopoulos) were sometimes apart and sometimes together, leaning on one another or entwining in some manner.  The most visually interesting moment of the hour-long work came when Ms. Ferri's shadow seemed to walk away from her as she lay curled up on the floor--a piece of staging legerdemain.

The manner in which the poem was recited and then sung did not make the words clear and the lighting was such that the projected titles were unclear.   It was an advantage to have been familiar with the poem.

There was a "curtain-raiser" of music by André Caplet based on another story by Poe entitled Conte fantastique: Le Masque de la Mort rouge.  Caplet's music, while not particularly melodic, offered interesting textures and was, again, beautifully played by a string quartet augmented by harp. The style was impressionistic and reminded us of Ravel.  We are indeed a big fan of this expressive instrument and Sivan Magen made it sing with gorgeous ascending and descending scales and shimmering arpeggios.

Unfortunately, we do not enjoy every event we write about but we would never dare to criticize its merit because it is not our taste.  We save our brickbats for poor performances.  This work may be exactly your cup of tea and you are invited to comment below if you wish.

© meche kroop

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