Gotham Chamber Opera

Where opera gets intimate.
September 25, 2012

ORIENTALE: a beautiful puzzle

A huge part of what I love about directing and choreographing is the challenge of fusing different styles and sources to make an evening.  It is like sitting in front of a giant jig saw puzzle and trying to fit the pieces together. ORIENTALE has been an exciting exploration in how to approach presenting ethnically varying pieces from an assortment of periods in a respectful yet imaginative way. My mantra for ORIENTALE has been to get inspired by each musical piece we chose allowing the essence of each to converge and fuse into a style that is unique and specific to this show. I am less interested in strict period reconstruction and more curious about what can happen when bodies steeped in the traditions and knowledge of the past are thrust into a more contemporary light. . It has been an absolute dream to choreograph to MAYA’s gorgeous Armenian pieces, they offer so much passion and earthiness in their playing and create a fantastic dialogue with the European pieces composed in an “exotic” style.

LE POISSON ROUGE has hugely influenced the way we are presenting the show. It is a nightclub/alternative space and has offered a unique set of challenges and opportunities while conceiving ORIENTALE. Nothing about the environment is a traditional proscenium set-up allowing us to relate to the space in a fresh way.  I felt it was important when working with my lighting and costume designers that we push to create a look that reflects our world today, a mash up of cultures and periods. Our approach has been to inject a level of fashion-forward fantasy to the proceedings so as not to marginalize the cultures being referenced musically, scenically, and choreographically but to invent our own design hybrid inspired by the geography of the music.

I hope you enjoy Gotham Chamber Opera’s ORIENTALE, it has been a pleasure building a World with these incredibly talented singers and musicians in which these rich musical treasures can be savored and celebrated.

AUSTIN McCORMICK

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The fun and communality of music-making is, or ought to be, obvious to everyone who hears the result. But most people probably wouldn’t guess that programming can be creative and joyful too. Certainly, programming Orientale – our title for the upcoming concerts Gotham Chamber Opera will present at (le) poisson rouge – has been an exercise in shared creativity every bit as exciting as what we hope it leads to. Perhaps there’s even a correlation between the pleasure derived in planning a program and the pleasure experienced upon hearing it.

We began with the notion of offering Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda as the tent pole of the fall LPR concert – even though we will mount a fully staged production in the 2013/14 season. After much discussion, we decided that a semi-staged production by a different director would only whet the audience’s appetite for the full production, which will take place in a very different environment than (le) poisson rouge nightclub. The opera – actually a proto-mini-opera that comes from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals – lends itself to varying interpretations and modes of presentation. The story of two battling warriors, set against the background of the Crusades, is narrated by one singer, with vocal interjections by the two protagonists. Even if one knows the piece, it leaves you asking: What is it really about? After discussions with our resident Baroque music expert, the celebrated theorbo player Grant Herreid, we decided that its subject is, among other things, the clash of cultures between East and West as seen through the eyes (and heard through the ears) of a Western composer residing in Venice, which was then at the crossroad between the two cultures.

With Il combattimento as the centerpiece for our program, we then convened a meeting with David Bennett (Gotham’s Executive Director), David Rubeo (Gotham’s Manager of External Affairs), George Lam (Gotham’s Producing Associate), Sato Moughalian (Gotham’s Orchestra Contractor and Principal Flutist), and Austin McCormick (the founding Artistic Director of Company XIV, and the director and choreographer of these concerts). As a group we sought to choose complementary works to highlight the Monteverdi and our East/West theme. We agreed that this program, like our previous evenings at (le) poisson rouge, should present a variety of compositional styles from many periods with varying instrumental and vocal combinations: a musical potpourri suitable for a relaxed concert in a nightclub. We made a checklist. Nineteenth and twentieth-century songs and operatic selections romanticizing the East: check. A Monteverdi vocal duet in praise of battle: check. French baroque music on Eastern themes: check. Traditional Armenian instrumental music: check. Contemporary percussion improvisation on Eastern motifs: check. A baroque instrumental ensemble: check. Terrific Gotham singers: check. Dancers from Company XIV: check.

With so many checks, we were left with more than three hours of possibilities. So we winnowed the material to 70 minutes of selections that we could not bear to omit.

The next task was ordering the material, providing a frame for each selection that would allow it to be heard to its best advantage. Sato noted mood and tempo similarities between the Armenian offerings and some of the other selections, and suggested that we present related works back to back, as two sides of a coin. The most festive works were placed to open and close the program, with Monteverdi appearing midway through, at the concert’s crossroads. In this way we designed the musical architecture of the evening together, mindful of its ebb and flow as well as its climaxes.

If a concert is a kind of built structure, soon it will be your turn to enter and look around. We can’t wait to share with you the fun and the fruits of our labor. 

  • Neal Goren, Founding Artistic Director

For information and tickets to Orientale, visit our production page here: http://www.gothamchamberopera.org/production/orientale

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September 06, 2012

Announcing our 2012-2013 Season

Gotham Chamber Opera announces its 2012-2013 season of three productions, featuring two site-specific works.  The season begins with GOTHAM @ LPR: ORIENTALE on October 1 and 3, 2012 at (le) poisson rouge and continues with the New York Premiere of Francesco Cavalli’s ELIOGABALO (1667) from March 15-29, 2013 at The Box, staged by James Marvel. The season will conclude in June with a production of Daniel Catan’s 1988 opera, LA HIJA DE RAPPACINI (Rappacini’s Daughter), in site-specific venues. 

GOTHAM @ LPR: ORIENTALE

Austin McCormick, stage director; Neal Goren, music director

October 1 and 3, 2012 at 8pm, (le) poisson rouge, 158 Bleecker St, NYC

Doors open at 7pm

Tickets are $25 for table seating, $15 for standing room, and are available at www.lepoissonrouge.com or 212.505.FISH (3474).

Gotham Chamber Opera presents an evening of music at the intersection of East and West.  GOTHAM @ LPR: ORIENTALE will include Monteverdi's Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, along with music by Rameau, Lully, Szymanowski, Delibes, Schumann, Bizet, John Hadfield, and traditional Armenian music.  The artists of Gotham Chamber Opera will be joined by a baroque instrumental ensemble, the dancers of Company XIV, the flute-harp-percussion trio MAYA, Grant Herreid (theorbo and guitar) and Nina Stern (chalumeau and recorder).  The cast will include Jennifer Rivera, Maeve Höglund, Michael Kelly, and Zachary Altman.

ELIOGABALO

Music by Francesco Cavalli, Libretto by Aurelio Aureli

James Marvel, director; Grant Herreid, music director; Neal Goren, associate music director

Gala Opening Night on March 15, 2013 at 7:30pm

March 19, 21, 23, 26, 29, 2013 at 8pm, The Box, 189 Chrystie Street

Tickets will go on sale on October 1, 2012 at www.ticketcentral.com, 212-279-4200.

Opera is full of courtesans and lechers and, in the 20th century, outright acts of perversion. (Salome, anyone?) But you have to go back almost 350 years for the work with the most depraved protagonist of all: Eliogabalo, by Francesco Cavalli. Based on the life of the Roman emperor Heliogabalus, who reigned from 218 to 222, the opera tells the story of a man who even today remains notorious for his sexual appetites, his appointment of an all-female senate, and his well-deserved assassination.  Cavalli (1602-1676) died without ever seeing a performance of the opera, which was written for the Venice festival of 1668 but withdrawn and replaced by another on the same subject. Cavalli’s original was rediscovered in 1998 and received its world premiere in 2004 at La Monnaie in Brussels.  This March, Gotham Chamber Opera presents Eliogabalo – staged by James Marvel and produced in cooperation with Randy Weiner (Sleep No More) – in one of New York’s most decadent nightspots: The Box, on the Lower East Side. Check your morals at the door; this production is unrated! Starring Christopher Ainslie as Eliogabalo, the cast will also include Micaëla Oesta, Susannah Biller, Maeve Höglund, Emily Righter, Darryl Freedman, Randall Scotting, John Easterlin, and Brandon Cedel.

LA HIJA DE RAPPACINI (Rappacini’s Daughter)

Music by Daniel Catàn, Directed by Rebecca Taichman, Conducted by Neal Goren

June 2013, Venue TBA

Tickets will go on sale on January 1, 2013 at www.ticketcentral.com, 212-279-4200.

Power and corruption, seen from an entirely different point of view, are key themes in the second offering of Gotham’s 2012-13 season: Daniel Catán’s 1988 opera La hija de Rappaccini (Rappaccini's Daughter). With a libretto by the Mexican Nobelist Ocatvio Paz, based on the classic short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the opera tells of a doctor who seeks to protect and control his daughter by keeping her locked in a garden where he is experimenting with poisonous plants. She is immune to them, but a carrier of their danger; when a young student falls in love with her, he is faced with the knowledge that pursuing that love will surely lead to his death. The Mexican-born Catán (1949-2011) composed in a neo-Romantic style, with long melodic lines, Debussy-like harmonies, and rich orchestrations. Though clearly contemporary, La hija de Rappaccini is as appealing as Puccini and Mozart. Also appealing are the contemporary resonances of the 160-year-old story. “An ideal can be made to serve the most horrific and inhumane causes,” Catán wrote of his opera. “The 20th century has provided us with more examples than we would ever want.” La hija de Rappaccini takes place at that intersection of beauty and danger – so what better place to hear it than in Gotham Chamber Opera’s site-specific performances this June under the stars in a New York garden?

Download the complete press release here.

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In addition to our performances throughout the year, Gotham Chamber Opera is proud to be a part of events that stimulate and engage the outside community with the beauty of opera and music as a whole. One such project was our recent partnership with Sing for Hope, whose mission is to mobilize professional artists to volunteer their talents for those who need it most. The cornerstone of the organization is their Healing Arts program, wherein live performances are brought to patients, families, visitors, and staff of hospitals throughout the New York area, sometimes even in individual hospital rooms! Ultimately, Sing for Hope is designed to bring together the hospital community of patients, families, doctors, and staff in a shared, uplifting experience.
 

On August 28th, Gotham proudly joined Sing for Hope at Mount Sinai Medical Center as part of the Healing Arts concert series, where Gotham was represented by soprano Antoni Mendezona and pianist Keun-A Lee, along with Sing for Hope artists Aditi Chakravarty, Neil Davis, and Angela Hwang. On the program was Ang Maya, by Jose A. Estella, about an elusive bird popular in the Philippines that is the object of the singer’s pursuits. As well, Villanelle by Eva Dell’Acqua continued the bird theme with its imagery of a soaring sparrow. In this piece in particular, the coloratura of Antoni Mendezona, mimicking the calls of the sparrow, sparkled brilliantly in the seventh floor atrium, which offered a beautiful sunlit venue for the upbeat music. Indeed, patients were so moved that many stopped and listened on the way back to their rooms. In addition to the moving art songs, patients and visitors were treated to arias sung a capella, some spectacular piano etudes, and a singer-song writer who offered three original tunes accompanied by a one-man band percussionist.

In all, this was a wonderful afternoon, punctuated by heavenly surroundings and inspiring performances that were enthusiastically received. The excitement was visible on the faces of patients and their families, and the event was just as, if not more, uplifting than a standard opera performance. Of Sing for Hope, Dr. David Muller, Dean of Medical Education at Mount Sinai, said, “Hospitals can be places of illness and suffering, but, today, Sing for Hope has transformed this space into one of hope and healing.” We would like to thank Sing for Hope for including us, and hope to be a part of many future performances!


Photos: (above) Soprano Antoni Mendezona demonstrates the flight of the Maya bird. (below) Antoni Mendezona, Keun-A Lee, and Sing for Hope's Healing Arts Coordinator Rachel Benichak
(All photos © Donna Aceto)

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