The Raven, Toshio Hosokawa
Conte fantastique: Le masque de la Mort rouge, André Caplet
Gotham Chamber Opera
30th May, 2014
A Bird's Eye View
For the past 13 years, Neal Goren and his team at Gotham Chamber Opera have been ahead of the cultural curve, assembling fascinating, cross-discipline collaborations and producing high-quality performances in a variety of venues. From humble beginnings, Goren’s company has grown in stature and honed every element of its presentation. The results are consistently chic. Every part of the evening, from the collection of tickets to the performances, the program design to the costume design, is polished and reassuring.
Gotham’s production of The Raven by Toshio Hosokawa is no exception. A true jewel in the NY Phil Biennale, this monodrama, very much in the tradition of Schoenberg’s Erwartung, is a brilliant, atmospheric setting of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem. This production, by Luca Veggetti, employs the now popular device of a dancer-singer combo to heighten the poem’s subconscious imagery. In this way, the production is reminiscent of a previous Gotham production, Ariadne Unhinged. In both cases, Goren has hired choreographers (Karole Armitage in the case of Ariadne) for whom text is not necessarily the launching pad of the creative process. The interpretation is thus taken far out of the realm of the literal. No, there are no raven-like movements. Instead, prima ballerina Alessandra Ferri’s role this production is an anonymous spiritual force, a gradual wearing-down of the singer’s understanding and strength, a presence as relentless and mystifying as the Raven itself in Poe’s masterpiece.
It is hard to believe that the role of The Narrator was not written personally for mezzo-soprano Frederika Brillembourg, so well does it suit her instrument. The composition powerfully evokes the energy of a wild, trapped bird: skittering anxiously across floorboards, resting momentarily paralyzed before attempting panicked flight. Brillembourg is an intimate performer who adheres (perhaps a little too perfectly?) to the score. Her voice is a wonder to behold in its lower register: she blends effortlessly in the “speaky” range in which this work often dwells. I could only have wished for a little more interpretative freedom from her, particularly in the actual spoken sections. Her performance is most powerful in the moments where she commits to real energetic exchange with Ferri. These are also some of the most challenging physical poses for the singer, at times carrying the dancer around her waist, or lifting her on extended legs whilst singing a pianissimo line.
The Raven was paired in this program with a thrilling reading of André Caplet’s Conte fantastique: Le Masque de la Mort rouge, written for harp and string quartet. Harpist Sivan Magen gave a phenomally impressive performance, in collaboration with an impeccable quartet who go sadly unnamed in the program, but one assumes were Gotham Chamber Orchestra players Christopher Lee, Austin Hartman, Nardo Poy and Serafim Smigelsky.
Bottom line: A feather in Gotham's cap.
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Conductor: Neal Goren
Mezzo-soprano: Frederika Brillembourg
Dancer: Alessandra Ferri
Director, choreographer and scenic designer: Luca Veggetti
Scenic and lighting designer: Clifton Taylor
Costume designer: Peter Speliopoulos
André CAPLET Conte fantastique: Le masque de la Mort rouge (1924)
Toshio HOSOKAWA The Raven (2012, U.S. Premiere)