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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 © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Opera Review: Thoroughly Modern Mosheh

Go down, Mosheh. Photo by Adi Shniderman
The Israeli composer Yoav Gal's new video opera ("videOpera" in the program book) Mosheh premiered at HERE this week. Saturday night's performance was powerful and effective, although the opera's musical strengths outweigh its libretto, which is in Hebrew with projected titles.

Like any composer confronted with the Book of Exodus, Mr. Gal was forced to solve the problem of Moses' speech impediment. His solution: have the role of the prophet acted and danced, but mute. The muscled, shirtless Nathan Guisinger played the role, curling in fetal position to depict the infant Moses at the river-bank, majestically leading his people with staff in hand in the final scene.

With a mute central character, Mr. Gal's work relies on the women in Moses' life to provide narrative and dramatic flow. Luckily, this production has a quartet of impressive female leads: Beth-Anne Hatton, Judith Barnes, Hai-Ting Chinn and Heather Green. The women anchor and nurture the prophet as he develops into maturity, staging his finding by the river-bank, his circumcision, and his receiving of the word of God.

Musically, Mr. Gal's opera uses a nine-piece band, with saxophones, vibraphone and strings to create a hypnotic background for the singers to work against. They respond with strong performances, although several of these voices are too large for the small theater. (This is often a problem with "black box" productions.) The "burning bush" scene, which features Ms. Chinn and her brother, Wesley Chinn, a countertenor, singing in unision created an effect of terror and awe.

The video projections, on large screens behind and in front of the actors add to the work's hypnotic effect. Using images of the East River and yet-to-be-redeveloped sections of the New York waterfront, Mr. Gal ties the Moses story to the present day. In the work's final section, the projections stopped, the screen lowered, and the four singers recounted the ten plagues that struck Egypt. Given that country's current turmoil, Mr. Gal's work had a modern resonance.

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