Last week I stepped out to Gotham Chamber Opera‘s season premiere, Gotham @ LPR: ORIENTALE, an evening’s entertainment with a vaguely Asiatic theme. The rep was a true mash-up: Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda as a centerpiece, traditional Armenian melodies, French Baroque opera hits, the Lakmé flower duet, and recital songs ranging from Bizet to Szymanowski to Schumann. Uniting the works were the jaw-dropping effects of Company XIV, the description-defying company whose dancers slink and flash about the stage the way you might if you’re home alone and had a killer underwear collection.
I had way too many colleagues onstage to make this an official review, but I was happy to spend the evening and report back with some musings.
It’s refreshing to attend a performance and simply give in to the sensual delights it offers. Since only Combattimento was performed with subtitles, the meanings of the rest of the songs were left to our imaginations, or we could gaze at the evocative dancers clad in racy costumes by Zane Pihlstrom. That the choreography did not always intersect with the meaning of the songs was not generally an issue. The only exception being the Combattimento, which is essentially a wordy solo cantata, sung with riveting command by baritone Michael Kelly. Dancers Cailan Orn and Sean Gannon went at each other with breathtaking brutality in Austin McCormick‘s choreography that was equal parts rough sex, gymnastics, and wow. It was just a little tricky to keep up with the rapid fire text and the flashy dancing, which often had its own narrative unrelated to the text.
But in any case, Maeve Höglund can do anything. Stepping in for an ailing Jennifer Rivera, she easily pinch hit in the female title role in Combattimento, and channeled a dark and lovely mezzo for Bizet’s “Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe.” Here is Conchita Supervía singing the same – there’s some vibrato you don’t hear every day!
Conchita Supervía. Just saying that name is like drinking a piña colada.
The Combattimento and songs were interspersed with toe-tapping interludes of traditional Armenian music performed energetically by the MAYA trio, with more glittery dancing from the troupe. One highlight along these lines was percussionist John Hadfield’s premiere of his own work, oniric, to the Flamenco-like moves of Marisol Cabrera.
Transitions between pieces (which can be treacherous in a pastiche) were seamless, and Pihlstrom’s simple set of lanterns and screens set just enough of an exotic tone. It’s difficult to design a program like this, and I have a lot of respect for the labor-intensive work that goes into it. I’m in the same business. Early next year I’ll use my little soap box to brainstorm some pastiche dos and don’ts, and I might discuss Gotham’s example further. I think the key is to take great music and do something that makes it even better, which isn’t always easy to do.