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PROTOTYPE: David Lang's "anatomy theater"

by Annette Gold 

Anatomy theater
“Where is evil?” sings Baron Peel (the booming, authoritative Robert Osborne), described as a “distinguished anatomist of talent and experience” by his contemporaries. Peel knowingly responds, “You can’t hide it…you can’t stop it.” And then he plunges a knife into a defenseless naked woman.

“Post mortem, of course.”

Such is the mood of the 90-minute absurd romp that is anatomy theater: a piece that effortlessly bridges Gilbert & Sullivan and Philip Glass into a feminist, satirical piece worthy of any stage. Especially in today’s reawakening of populist control over women’s health, the statement that women deserve more than the benefit of the doubt (like, for starters, an opinion) belongs in neon, in patter, in repetitions, in themes of hyperbole.

The show began in the lobby – at first, admittedly, I thought it was a tired trick: extras dressed as 15th-century peasants directed guests to different parts of the lobby for an interactive preshow. Then, the murderess Sarah Osborne (growled by Peabody Southwell) was led in shackles through the crowd signaling the start of the show. We all filtered into the black box, an ideal venue for such a piece to resonate intimately, to find Sarah on a box below a noose. The audience took a moment to gawk and settle into their seats. The extras filled in the sides of the theater – their participation transformed the stark space into a medieval enclave; with eye contact easy and the fourth wall broken, the murderess’ desperation was quite palpable before a single note rang out.

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PROTOTYPE Festival: Breaking the Waves

by Annette GoldBreakingthewaves(All pics by Steven Pisano)

Following it's world premiere at Opera Philadelphia in September, the much-hyped Breaking the Waves had its New York City debut at the Skirball Center at NYU last Friday night as part of the PROTOTYPE Festival. Going into it, I was skeptical—would the piece be a salacious shocker with nudity and profanity, or would it be a revelation? The answer: it is bafflingly not greater than the sum of its parts, despite exquisite composing and lyrical, if not virtuosic, singing.

As a disclaimer, I’ll share that I haven’t seen the movie. I felt that would actually be better, since I wanted to experience firsthand what I had heard would be a very powerful story. Operas should have powerful stories. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to remain confused for most of the performance, due at least in part to the stuck, postured direction by James Darrah.

The opera seemed most free in the little moments of joyful characterization allotted to the doomed protagonist Bess, brilliantly sung by Kiera Duffy, whose Scottish accent and paradoxical gamine naïveté were never a burden. Composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek gift us with an all-male Greek chorus of sorts; it seemed Mr. Darrah could have left the posturing to them to highlight their contrast with the protagonists, a sort of ‘perspective of the masses’ versus that of the ‘other.’

That is not to say the piece was ineffective. It surely had shock value—Ms. Duffy was completely nude a handful of times, and her character’s husband, Jan, both bellowed and crooned by John Moore, was naked in enough positions to leave nothing to imagination. The nudity was obviously intended to be an important expository choice, but it felt gratuitous and gave us no insight about either character’s true desires. The inexplicable connection between the love interests was only more confusing as Jan exploited Bess’s kindness by encouraging her liaisons with every member of the chorus, accompanied by more nudity.

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The Richard Tucker Gala at Carnegie Hall

Netrebko dario acostaPhoto credit: Dario Acosta

The Richard Tucker Gala, arguably the most star-studded event of the American opera season, took place last Sunday at Carnegie Hall. The gala is a veritable barometer of the best singing in the opera world, and this year was no exception—headlining the program were prima donnas Joyce DiDonatoAnna Netrebko and Renée Fleming, in addition to the 2016 Richard Tucker Award winner Tamara Wilson.

Ms. Wilson easily proved her vocal mastery in her second selection, "Tu al cui sguardi onni possenti" from Verdi’s I due foscari. As she tossed off impossible roulades and cut through more than 100 instruments and choristers with pianissimo high notes, Wilson made Carnegie's bathtub-like acoustic cower under her vocal heft. Her other pieces were no less lovely—Wagner’s "Dich, teure Halle," a trio from Norma, and "Make Our Garden Grow" from Candide—each of which Ms. Wilson handled with finesse and command. She is a major new discovery for the opera world.

Wilson was in good company with reigning diva Netrebko, who was originally slated to sing a duet with her husband, tenor Yusif Eyvazov, until it was announced that Mr. Eyvazov would be unable to perform due to a broken foot. This turned out to be to the audience's benefit, as Ms. Netrebko added the verismo aria "Io son l’umile ancella" to the previously programmed "La mamma morta." Both pieces were riveting, conjuring images of the great Maria Callas and Renata Tebaldi, combining Callas’ vocal drama with Tebaldi’s luxurious sound. Especially breathtaking were the final floated phrases, complete with pitch-perfect octaves and a final ringing morrà.

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New Music Wrap Up: The Parksville Murders, Vicky Chow, Mivos and Quiet City

Parksvill Murders-002It's been a bit busy this week, so here's a quick rundown of some new and interesting music I experienced at the end of last week.  

The Parksville Murders - Last Thursday, DIY opera heroes Opera on Tap presented a preview of Kamala Sankaram's The Parksville Murders. Billed as "the world's first VR episodic horror opera," visitors were directed to a space near the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO where they were given headphones and a VR headset. Set in a dimly-lit room in the Catskills, the 15 minute opera - promised to be the first of a dozen or so episodes - starred Kacey Cardin as Corinne, who sang while lying in a bathtub filled with dead leaves. Another woman, Sarah, (Mikki Sodergren) soon appeared in the room, as did a group of mysterious, hooded “watchers.” As I sat there watching, I felt a palpable sense of unease as the shadowy figures appeared on all sides, even behind me. And, thanks some cutting edge audio technology from HEAR360, the sound I heard changed depending on where I was looking. A very cool beginning to what will hopefully become an extended evening of immersive opera.

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