ACME Play the Music of Jóhann Jóhannsson at Le Poisson Rouge
Esa-Pekka Salonen's "Foreign Bodies" at the New York Philharmonic

River to River Festival - "Naamah's Ark"

by Steven Pisano

28016303517_0f6cbbebed_o(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

Now in its 17th year, the River to River Festival is a series of free performances presented each summer in Lower Manhattan, offering music, dance, theater, and visual arts. On Sunday, in Rockefeller Park along the Hudson River, an oratorio by composer Marisa Michelson and librettist Royce Vavrek, "Naamah's Ark," was presented on an open-air stage featuring almost 200 singers.

Like many communities on the East Coast - including the area surrounding Rockefeller Park - Hurricane Sandy brought widespread destruction to the Long Island town of Lawrence, NY.  Different socioeconomic communities within Lawrence had for a long time been separate, keeping to themselves, but the storm changed everything, bringing the people of the town closer together as they all recovered from the storm.

Inspired by Michelson's conversations with the residents of Lawrence, "Naamah's Ark" re-centers the biblical story of Noah's Ark around Noah's wife Namaah, about whom relatively little is known. Here, Naamah is very much a modern woman, doing all she can to hold things together in the face of a disastrous flood - just like the residents of Lawrence.

41075052710_fe08ae6192_oTony Award-winning Victoria Clark ("The Light in the Piazza") was Naamah, leading the production with her firm, clear soprano. She endowed Naamah with an indomitable spirit, shouldering the responsibility of managing the animals on the Ark, while at the same time being disgusted with Noah, who she found drunk at all hours. And in a twist you certainly won't read about in the Bible, Naamah found herself enticed by the songs of a mythical Merman (Sachal Vasandani), with whom she sought to find a new life, just like the animals she loosed upon the newly washed world to start all over again.

Supporting Ms. Clark were a number of different choruses and soloists, including the MasterVoices chorale (conducted by Ted Sperling), the Stuyvesant High School Chorus, the Jerriese Johnson Gospel Choir of Middle Collegiate Church, members of the Congregation Rodelph Sholom Adult Choir, the Hispanic Women's Ensemble, the Migration Drums, and various instrumentalists on strings and horns.

28016292377_6ebb944720_oCantor Rebecca Garfein (of Congregation Rodeph Sholom) was the narrator, slyly singing the story with a smile and a wink. Nicole Coffaro (from MasterVoices) sang the beautiful solo of the Dove, the messenger sent forth from the Ark to see if all the waters of the Flood had receded.

But, the two most stunning solos of the night were a gospel powerhouse performance by Melody Betts, who recently appeared in the televised version of "Jesus Christ Superstar", and an a cappella azaan (Muslim call to prayer) by Emre Durali. Both solos were performed so singularly, it was easy to forget there were almost 200 other singers standing nearby.

41075042650_2c0845106c_oMore photos can be found here.