This past week has been one of stretching our boundaries and exposing ourself to different types of theatrical music. It has gotten us thinking about the intention of the composer in opera. If one focuses on the history of operatic performance, their composition seems designed to entertain an audience, whether that be an audience of aristocrats or an audience of the bourgeoisie.
Contemporary performance art, on the other hand, seems designed to express something deeply personal in the life of the artist--fears, desires, obsessions, and preoccupations. It is up to the audience to find something with which to relate, and the pleasure of being an audience member depends largely upon his/her willingness to find common ground.
Concerning The Desire/Divinity Project, seen Saturday night at Judson Memorial Church, what we related to the most was Marisa Michelson's original music and the performance of same by her Constellation Chor. Voices floated upward into the cavernous playing space, with overtones bouncing around the hall. There were some gorgeous harmonies and mystical dissonances that put us in a meditative state.
Coincidentally, our interest in theater was born in this space when the late Al Carmines regularly produced unusual pieces of music theater. We warmly recall Ira Siff's performance in The Journey of Snow White. (Memories upon request!)
With our dear Ethan Heard directing and Emma Jaster handling the movement and costuming, we knew the evening would be a worthwhile one. Moreover, the evocative lighting by Elizabeth Mak used hand held spotlights to create eerie shadows on the wall.
As far as the text is concerned, Part I made use of fragments of poetry written two and a half millennia ago by Ancient Greek poet Sappho. Scholars still do not agree about her profession as school mistress or leader of a choral society, nor can they agree about her sexual orientation.
None of this matters because translating the fragments into English didn't provide much in the way of drama, character development, or storytelling. One might just as well have been listening to nonsense syllables. It all sounded just fine with Ms. Michelson's lovely voice and self-accompaniment on the lyre.
Dressed in black and sitting on a stool, her simplicity and commitment were striking. Members of her Constellation Chor spread around the playing area, weaving in and out among the sections of the seating area giving one the feeling of participating in an ancient ritual.
Part II utilized as text a section of the bible known as Song of Songs. This part of the bible is known for its eroticism but, once again, the text was less interesting than the music. (Perhaps it sounds better in Aramaic.)
For this part of the program, Ms. Michelson exchanged her black garment for a white shift and wrote accompaniment for an interesting combination of instruments--percussion, cello, and various wind instruments including a Bansuri flute.
Ms. Michelson was able to exhibit another of her multiple talents, playing the piano. Her musical language goes beyond words and includes all manner of vocalizing with words and wails receiving equally weight.
We loved Mr. Heard's direction which held our attention throughout, and Ms. Jaster's astute control over the movement which had an archaic feel.
We understand that there will be a Part III in the future. We wonder what the text will be.
(c) meche kroop