Last Friday, Alarm Will Sound performed a new music-theater piece, I Was Here I Was, with music by Kate Soper and a libretto by Nigel Maister. Soper's work was about the Temple of Dendur, the 2000-year-old Egyptian temple that was famously rescued from a watery oblivion in the 1960s when Egypt built the Aswan Dam. So, it was appropriate that the piece was performed in the Sackler Wing of the museum, right at the steps of the temple itself, which was moved to the museum in the late 1970s. It was almost as if the temple was listening.
The work covered different periods in the temple's past, from the time it was built in 15 BC to the present day. Notably, it included a lyrical section drawn from the travels of the nineteenth-century British traveler, Amelia Edwards, whose writing about her trip to Egypt inspired Maister's libretto.
Soper herself spoke and sang the role of Amelia, her voice filling the majestic space of the pavilion with clear authority. Also singing well were Michael Harley in a series of different roles marked by simple costume changes. Matt Marks played the part of the Idle Man, a sometimes innocent, sometimes ignorant tourist, big black camera always at the ready whose last act is being caught defacing the temple with graffiti. The singers and musicians of Alarm Will Sound were conducted by Alan Pierson.
Instead of being a full-blown theatre piece (this was not Cleopatra!), it was more like a staged reading, with singers walking around to different stations, if only to be a little closer to the different sections of the audience who were seated in a far flung array surrounding the reflecting pool.
More than a few members of the audience will long remember when two Nubian princes, played by Courtney Orlando and Caleb Burhans, first float and then submerge their violins below the surface of the water in the reflecting pool, representing the drowning of the two princes. Were those real violins or just props? In a discreet, classical kind of way, it was as jarring and unexpected as The Who's Pete Townshend smashing his guitar on stage.
(photo by Steven Pisano)
More photos of "I Was Here I Was" on the photo page.