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I was back at NY City Opera for the second night in a row last night to see "Monodramas": a set of three one act music dramas for single female voice. Aside from some inscrutable program notes by a Skidmore theater professor named Gautam Dasgupta ("Such intermingling, admixtures, and reciprocity of forms on coeval terms freed artists to contemplate and conceive of their work as not beholden to any one primary mode of expression, but as a fluid and shifting panorama of artistic intent") we were left without much of a guide to the goings on of these abstract "operas", other than Michael Counts' spare, sleek sets and direction. (I had the chance to see several of Counts' wildly ambitious theater productions when he ran GAle GAtes in DUMBO back in the 90's, and it was good to see him back in action after an extended absence from the New York stage.)
Of the three works on the program, it was Schoenberg's "Erwartung" that provided the most conventional, compelling tale - albeit a dream sequence recounted by one of Sigmund Freud's patients. Grippingly sung by Kara Shay Thomson, the psychological tells of a woman wandering a forest at night in search of her lover, only to find his bloody corpse lying in the moonlight. But, instead of grieving for him, she kicks his dead body in retaliation for an undisclosed infidelity before engaging in a desperate act of necrophilia. Counts' staging was stunningly beautiful, dressing Thomson and the all-female ensemble in classical white garments while red petals fell gently from above, coating both stage and corpse (played here by Brian Bickerstaff.)
John Zorn, fresh off his marathon performance here Wednesday night, contributed "La Machine de l'Etre": a plotless, textless 10 minute work, sung here by veteran Finnish soprano Anu Komsi. Counts and his costume designer Jessica Jahn dressed the ensemble in black burkas, contributing an air of mystery and menace, while Ada Whitney and a team of animation signers adapted the asylum drawings of Antonin Artaud by which Zorn was inspired, projecting them onto massive quote balloons.
Unfortunately, I had to leave at intermission, so I didn't get to see Morton Feldman's "Neither" set to a surreal text by Samuel Beckett. But, I did spot Zorn in the audience at intermission, and made a point to congratulate him on the marathon, as well as this performance. "It's been pretty special," he said.
"How long have you been working on all this?" I asked.
"Oh...about my whole life," Zorn said, laughing.