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.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Thomas Richards, Jennifer Zetlan, and Abdiel Jacobsen (photo by Richard Termine)

One might think of Gotham Chamber Opera's newest entry in terms of Richard Wagner's concept of gesamtkunstwerk--combining poetry, music, singing, dancing, set design and, of course video projections.  Another way to perceive the work is, as our companion for the evening called it--a haiku of a Shakespeare play.  We thought of it as a meditation on Shakespeare's Tempest with contributions from the 18th and 21st centuries.

The entire affair was directed and choreographed by Luca Veggetti, using four amazing dancers from the Martha Graham Dance company who impressed us with their dramatic intensity.  Peiju Chien-Pott stood out for her flexibility and breathtaking extensions, defying her peculiar costume of jeans and boots.  Abdiel Jacobsen partnered her effectively in some outstanding duets.  The other two dancers, Ying Xin and Lloyd Mayor were, for unknown reasons, swathed entirely in black which was unfortunate because they are very attractive performers.

Singing roles were taken by soprano Jennifer Zetlan, whom we had much admired in Two Boys at The Metropolitan Opera, and bass-baritone Thomas Richards, whom we would like to hear again, singing different material.

We are somewhat familiar with the music of Kaija Saariaho from her Amour de Loin which we saw in Santa Fe a few years ago. It may be very fine music but every time the program switched to songs of Henry Purcell from his 1712 version of The Tempest, we felt our taut nerves relaxing and our ears smiling. We particularly enjoyed Purcell's "Halcyon Days".

Purcell's songs are melodic and pleasing; Saariaho's belong to that category of post-modern composition that does not fall gently on the ear.  Many songs were declamatory and approached sprechstimme.  It is easy to evaluate a singer's quality in the Purcell (both singers were fine) but it was impossible to evaluate with the Saariaho. In one song, "Bosun's Cheer", Richards mentioned "roaring, shrieking, howling, and jingling". We wondered whether he was referring to the sea or to the sounds he was asked to reproduce!

The same issue occurred with the instrumental music.  The combination of period instruments conducted by Maestro Neal Goren sounded delightful in the Purcell songs. The Gotham Chamber Orchestra comprised a string quartet, a bass, a harpsichord and an archlute which we mistook for a theorbo.  (Following the performance we had just enough time to visit the Met's exhibit of Caravaggio's paintings of musicians and their instruments.  There were also real antique instruments under glass. Nice tie-in!)

We did not find the Saariaho delightful--interesting, dramatic, but not delightful.

The simple but effective set by Clifton Taylor, who also did the moody lighting, included a huge globe on which were projected images suggestive of a tempest at sea, and later showed images of the performers themselves.  Video projections were by Jean-Baptiste Barrière.

Costumes by Peter Speliopoulos did not amount to much. Ms. Zetlan was clothed in a shapeless shift that achieved the goal of timelessness without flattering her figure. Others wore street attire.

Gotham Chamber Opera is known for taking risks and this one seemed to please the audience in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum. We consider it a worthwhile adventure although not altogether pleasing.  Let us say rather that it was dramatic and interesting.

(c) meche kroop

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