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Louis Andriessen's "Anaïs Nin" and "Odysseus' Women" at National Sawdust

by Steven Pisano

29764282274_867eab4540_o(All photographs by Steven Pisano.)

On Saturday night, for one performance only, the Center for Contemporary Opera presented the U.S. premiere of a double-bill of Louis Andriessen's one-act chamber operas Anaïs Nin and Odysseus' Women at National Sawdust, in a production conceived and directed by Jorinde Keesmaat.

Augusta Caso made her company debut as the title character in Anaïs Nin. Odysseus' Women featured Sharin Apostolou, Maggie Finnegan, Nicole Mitchell, and Hilary Ginther. Music direction was by Neal Goren, with synthesizer and piano played by Jerome Tan.

For information on the rest of CCO's Fall 2016 season, click here. More pics below and here.

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"Breaking the Waves" at Opera Philadelphia

By Steven Pisano

20160920-DSC_7171(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

PHILADELPHIA, PA - Sometimes art can depict the most repulsive aspects of the human condition, and still be deemed successful. Such is the case with Missy Mazzoli's new chamber opera Breaking the Waves, which is receiving its world premiere this week by Opera Philadelphia at the Kimmel Center. Billed as a love story of unparalleled self-sacrifice and divine devotion, Breaking the Waves is actually a story of perversion, misogyny, and cruelty.

Based on the 1996 film by Lars Von Trier, the story takes place in a remote and religiously repressed village in the Scottish Highlands. Jan, a worker on an offshore oil rig and Bess, a meek, mentally unstable young woman who is deeply depressed after the death of a brother, are in love and eager to marry. The local church elders do not approve of Bess marrying an outsider, fostering an oppressive atmosphere similar to the Puritan Boston of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, or the pre-WWI Germany of Michael Haneke’s film The White Ribbon. Dressed head-to-toe in black but with their pants legs encrusted in mud and salt (a great touch by costumer Chrisi Karvonides), the elders constantly remind Bess of her “responsibilities” as a wife—meaning that women should obey men, even if what men ask of them is reprehensible. So saith the Word.

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"The Hubble Cantata" and Tigue at BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival

by Steven Pisano

(All photos by Steven Pisano)

"We are stardust/ Billion year old carbon/ We are golden/ Caught in the devil's bargain/ And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." --Joni Mitchell

For anyone interested in the origins of the Universe, the concepts of space and time, or the genesis of life, the spectacular, awe-inspiring photographs taken with the Hubble Space Telescope over the past 36 years have been a magical, almost religious source of wonder, enabling humankind to peer back 14 billion years into our collective past. These extraordinary photographs have inspired scientists to dream about what the future might hold for us. 

In Paola Prestini and Royce Vavrek's The Hubble Cantata, which received its world premiere as a full-length virtual reality experience at BRIC's Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival on Saturday night, the audience was invited to travel on a shared journey inspired by these majestic images, following the skeletal story of a woman who is born, dies, and seeks to be reborn, just as stars are reconstituted from their own stellar dust. Images of ex-New York City Ballet dancer Wendy Whelan were projected onto a scrim in front of the orchestra and chorus.

The tease of the show to the thousands of people in attendance was that it was the first-ever fusing of a major musical performance with Virtual Reality. But the VR experience--a wishy-washy video of the Orion Nebula called "Fistful of Stars" by filmmaker Eliza McNitt viewed on smartphones inserted into cardboard headsets--was underwhelming at best. I was anticipating oohs and aahs all around me, but mostly I saw a sea of shrugs. With a long line of feature film depictions of space from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Gravity, there has been no shortage of jaw-dropping footage of what space might look like.

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Mostly Mozart Opening Night: The Illuminated Heart

For the opening of the 50th season of Mostly Mozart, you had to guess Jane Moss and the folks at Lincoln Center had something pretty special planned (other than this command performance, of course). So it was last night at David Geffen Hall, when Music Director Louis Langrée led the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra and nine of today's leading singers in "The Illuminated Heart": a 90 minute selection of arias and ensembles from Mozart's operas commissioned by Lincoln Center and billed as a world premiere.

In his astonishing 30 year career - which began when he was 5 - Mozart wrote a total of 21 operas, many of which have never left the repertory. Last night's performance drew from seven of these operas: from Zaide, written when Mozart was 23, to The Magic Flute, completed two months before his death in 1791. Taken as a whole, it was a remarkable testament not only to Mozart's enduring genius, but also to the depth of his humanity. As director Netia Jones writes in the program:

"The Illuminated Heart traces fragmented moments of human emotion and interaction in these vivid works - the moral obscurity and exposure of human failure and heartbreak, alongside displays of the greatest strength and resilience...We see the composer in the context of the 18th-century Enlightenment, while also recognizing his characters in ourselves."

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