Gotham Chamber Opera

Where opera gets intimate.

I first became aware of Toshio Hosokawa after reading the ecstatic reviews coming from Europe for his chamber opera Matsukaze in the summer of 2011. Upon hearing his music, I was shocked that I had not known of this modern master previously. His music is wildly sensual and atmospheric, with luminous colors and a huge emotional range. Hosokawa’s publisher directed me to The Raven, a monodrama for mezzo-soprano and twelve musicians, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s narrative poem. Though I was unable to attend its premiere in Brussels in 2012, I did hear a subsequent performance with the original performers in Amsterdam the next year. I was smitten. Poe’s text, I realized for the first time, was a brilliant depiction of free-floating anxiety, a surgically precise deconstruction of neurosis, observed from all angles. Moreover, it interacted with Hosokawa’s diaphanous, iridescent colors to create an unforgettable evening of haunting, intense beauty.

It is my joy and honor to conduct the U.S. premiere of The Raven for the New York Philharmonic Biennial. Though one cannot easily reduce beauty to words and categories, I consider Hosokawa to be a spiritual heir of Debussy in his obsession with color and atmosphere: he could accurately be labeled a post-Impressionist composer. With that in mind, we are pairing The Raven with the greatest work of Debussy’s greatest epigone, André Caplet: his Conte fantastique for harp and string quartet, subtitled “after one of Edgar Poe’s extraordinary stories: The Mask of the Red Death.” The brief work relates to The Raven both musically and, you might say, poetically.

It was the Italian director-choreographer Luca Veggetti who came up with the brilliantly perverse idea that The Raven would benefit from staging, and as he described his vision for it, I was sold. It did not hurt that his vision had been approved by the composer and that one of the composer’s favorite interpreters, the mezzo-soprano Fredrika Brillembourg, has been a friend of mine for years. That one of the dancers I have most admired, Alessandra Ferri, was willing to be part of the production made this an irresistible opportunity for Gotham Chamber Opera.

Irresistible but not easy. While it is not an opera per se, it is a sung story, presented in our version with all the dancing, acting, and scenic elements of a true musical-theater piece. Unlike most operatic narratives, the time span covered in the story is neither years nor days, but rather a succession of discomforting moments sometimes rendered in barely audible speech, sometimes flamboyantly sung, and intoned in every possible manner and volume in between. Indeed, I had grave doubts, before we began rehearsing, that anyone could memorize such challenging music. But I had underestimated the genius of Ms. Brillembourg, whose familiarity with Hosokawa’s musical idiom has rendered the seemingly impossible seemingly effortless. As for Ms. Ferri, she is breaking new ground in this production; perhaps to her own surprise, she has discovered both artistic comfort and liberation in Mr. Veggetti’s extreme physical demands.

What’s true for our artists is also, experience shows, true for our audiences: challenging material offers unique opportunities. You have come with us on a thirteen-year journey into many unknown corners of the operatic repertoire, and I trust that you will continue to make these journeys with us for many years to come. Or, dare I say, evermore?

--Neal Goren

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May 27, 2014

Raven Video Preview

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

"The Raven" Takes an Operatic Turn

Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven," as imagined by the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, has a mezzo-soprano narrator. Gotham Chamber Opera will open the inaugural New York Philharmonic Biennial with the work this week.

Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

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Opera Philadelphia Names Little as Composer in Residence
 

Opera Philadelphia, in collaboration with Gotham Chamber Opera and Music-Theater Group, in New York, has appointed David T. Little as composer in residence, a three-year position that begins on June 1. The program, which was started in 2011, includes a stipend and health benefits, and involves work with all three companies.

Mr. Little, who is the director of Newspeak, an amplified chamber ensemble, is best known for his multimedia work “Soldier Songs.” His opera “JFK,” commissioned by the American Lyric Theater in New York and the Fort Worth Opera, is scheduled to have its first full scale production in Ft. Worth in 2016.

“I stumbled backwards into opera, really, and have learned almost entirely by doing,” Mr. Little said in a statement, “writing pieces like ‘Dog Days,’ ‘Soldier Songs,’ and ‘Vinkensport’ by following my instincts. These projects excited me to explore the vast potentials of opera in the 21st century, into questions of form, language, narrative, and so on. I am looking forward to working with and within these three terrific companies to explore all that opera can be.”

The residency program is competitive: Mr. Little was chosen from more than 100 applicants. And because it runs three years, with a new composer appointed annually, Mr. Little joins three others at various points in their terms. Lembit Beecher, who was appointed in 2011, completes his term this summer. His “I Have No Stories to Tell You” had its premiere at Gotham Chamber Opera in February. Miss Mazzoli, appointed in 2012, is composing an opera based on the 1996 film “Breaking the Waves.” Andrew Norman was appointed in 2013.

Source: The New York Times, May 16, 2014

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