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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Opera Review: Bird or Fiend?

Gotham Chamber Opera opens The Raven.
by Paul J. Pelkonen (with apologies to Edgar Allen Poe)
Singer Frederika Brillembourg (standing) and dancer Alexandra Ferri in The Raven.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2014 Gotham Chamber Opera/NY PHIL BIENNIAL.
In the opera world it's known, that on stages lights are shone
and composers look to poets for librettos for their scores.
It's to Edgar Allen Poe and his great poem of great woe
that the Gotham Chamber Opera's new The Raven owes its source.
'Twas by Toshio Hosokawa, and its New York premiere this was,
a new work washed on Gotham's shore.


The show was mounted Wednesday evening, For its N. Y. C. first airing
as the NY PHIL BIENNAL's first night, murky depths it did explore.
Depths of psyche and emotion from old Poe's Plutonian ocean
with audience's devotion wrapped in Stygian dark: their ears trained to the fore
Sat in darkness all attention in a state of eager tension
Every whisper seemed to roar.

This new work by Hosokawa lasted much less than an hour,
and was prefaced by a work for harp and string-ed players four.
This was by André Caplet, titled Conte fantastique
It envisioned Poe's Red Death: a tale of terror, blood and gore.
The chamber players whispered as the music hissed and tickled
with their strings plucked, bowed and bristled
Of this prelude, we'll no more.

Then 'twas time to mount The Raven, and the players from their haven
seated themselves on stage right with conductor to the fore.
Neal Goren, music director led a modest-sized or-chestra,
great waves of sound came rolling, from the depths the basses roared
As the violins were keening above the bridge their players bowing
and the woodwinds moaned their pleadings as from the brass a whooshing roar,
this is what opened the score.

Singer, narrator and speaker was the mezzo Frederika--
Brillembourg a solo singer, stretched and lithe with solid "core."
Her voice brought Poe's nightmare before us, a lone dancer was her chorus,
they twined and wound into a torus 'pon the parquet wooden floor,
'twas balletic and the movement added much to its allure.
We sat rapt, and never bored.

The air grew thick, oppressive as our singer turned digressive
creating Edgar A.'s obsessive world of birds perched smugly atop chamber doors,
'pon the entry of the fledgling, Ms. Brillembourg sang the dreaded word
The poem's famous one-liner that some students might abhor,
We leant forward anticipating the utterance she would be making
At last she sang it: "Nevermore."

It was on that declaration that the work's chief inspiration,
a tone-row of brief summation was then weaved throughout the score,
For the Raven's croaking phrasing the lone saxophonist playing
his odd instrument displaying the otherworldly sound of lore,
The moaning sax invaded the subconscience and the mem'ry
Quoth the sax-ist: "Nevermore."

She moved with the terpsichore, a dancer Alexandra Ferri,
Ms. Brillembourg writhed and twisted herself as the sounds broke rudely the shore,
The movements were influenced by a Japanese style of dance,
A complex routine to be played out on the simple floor,
The director, Luca Veggetti used Noh drama as his regie
Slowed, hypnotic, movements sure.

Is making use of just one poem an act of genius or a phantom?
Did Mr. Hosakawa stretch Poe's text and patience past endure?
Or is his dark twisted Raven the show that audiences were craving?
Would this phantasmagorical evening be met raptly or abhorred?
As the last phrases were uttered and the darkling lights were shuttered,
the theater rose in unison with an approving roar.
For The Raven, "Evermore."
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.