Saturday, April 13, 2013

Visitations: Theotokia and The War Reporter

- - -
One of my recent conversations discussed the following proposition: when attending an avant-garde opera, instead of dressing up in the usual evening formal attire, one could don the hipster gear of thick-rimmed glasses, hoodie, brightly-colored pants, converse sneakers, and mismatched socks. I'm really milking my grad student status for all it's worth.

As quoted from the concert program:
Visitations presents a pair of tender and powerful dramas about individuals haunted by inner voices. The first, Theotokia, takes the audience inside the consciousness of a man who, beset by hallucinatory voices, is taunted and seduced by the mother of God. The work illuminates the experience of Leon, a schizophrenic who is possessed by ritualistic and religious hallucinatory delusions and suffers from obsessive, ritualistic behavior.  
The second opera of the set, The War Reporter, depicts the true story of the inner struggle of Paul Watson, a war reporter who believes he is being haunted by the spirit of the desecrated American soldier he photographed in the streets of Mogadishu in 1993 (a photograph that won Watson the Pulitzer Prize shortly thereafter). Although the libretto's narrative traverses six geographical locations, the actual drama is set entirely in the psyche of the reporter as he struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. 
I was totally mesmerized by the juxtaposition of Gregorian chant (parallel fifths and octaves) with augmented/diminished fourth/fifths, major/minor seconds reminiscent of the soundtrack from North by Northwest and Inception. The St. Lawrence String Quartet really pulled out all the chords and shook them in pizzicatos. The texturing of various percussion instruments and the alto flute was particularly effective. Kudos to the composer and the entire "pit" orchestra! (There's no real pit on stage in this concert hall.)

The New York Polyphony gave a fantastic rendition of all the angst and nuances. The countertenor (who played Leon and one of Paul's inner voices) sang with the delicate tension of stretched pizza dough, constantly stringing my ears along with the anticipation of delicious harmonies and suspension chords. It was amazing how high his range can get! The baritone (as Paul) swept me away with all the power of crashing waves on a stormy shore. The soprano's singing (Theotokia: Mother Anne, Leon's mother, Yeti Mother; The War Reporter: Paul's boss, Paul's inner voice) soared like an albatross surfing in the mountain wind.

The set design once again evoked an abstract sense of unsettling, as per Rinde Eckert's signature in his works. The visualization in Theotokia reminded me of fertilized cells dividing...

... and ferrofluids morphing...

I also enjoyed how the vocalists took over the role of the stage crew, rearranging props while doing choreographed interpretive dance moves that illuminated plot elements. This aspect of the performance was implicit and understated, letting the audience make the conceptual leaps, a fresh contrast to the special effects overkill in contemporary cinema. :-P

At some point, I wondered about the anachronistic superstition that upon taking a shot, the camera would extract the subject's soul... or perhaps the photographer's?

No comments:

Post a Comment