Gotham Chamber Opera

Where opera gets intimate.

Director James Marvel shares his thoughts on the upcoming double bill Alexandre bis and Comedy on the Bridge. 

"The sheer exuberance of Martinu's music is infectious from the start. It is witty, vivacious, and irreverent in its spirited depiction of characters that are at once familiar yet patently absurd. In its treatment, style, and execution, Alexandre bis is as demonstrably French as Comedy on the Bridge is Czech.

Alexandre bis is absurdist, surrealist, and abstract. The stage directions in the score are at once agonizingly specific and impossibly vague, but not to honor most of them would be to risk further obscuring the story and the composer's intention. The score, laden as it is with a myriad of references to seemingly disparate genres of music, exhibits a masterful working knowledge of French idiom and paradigm, while maintaining a voice that is unique to Martinu.

Comedy on the Bridge is much more straight forward in the sense that it is steeped in Czech folklore. The storytelling and the music are much more linear, despite the abstract circumstance of the main characters not being able to leave the bridge due to the bureaucratic fanaticism of the soldiers. This feeling of purgatorial displacement is achieved by mixing equal parts pastoral simplicity and Orwellian nightmare.

If form is to follow function, as I believe it should, then design for the operatic stage should reflect not only the Aristotelian precept of dramatic unity within space and time, but the music.  In fact, "reflect" is too weak a word.  The design should be an outward manifestation of the music.  When done to perfection, the two should be indistinguishable from each another.


Our design process began with a meditation on how both pieces explore the idea of "home."Alexandre bis is a surrealist jaunt that turns typical domestic life on its head like a fractured cubist, dada collage, and the piece is an exploration of how society was changing and modernizing as a result of the hotbed of chaos, upheaval, and artistic invention that occurred in between the two world wars.

Meanwhile, Comedy on the Bridge portrays ordinary people trying to get home to safety while trapped in a liminal no man's land. For Alexandre bis, we began with the idea of French toile, the very fabric of French domesticity that most often depicts pastoral scenes or images from the French countryside on wallpaper and furniture. The trees from the toile became the trees for our Czech folktale. From a structural and architectural standpoint, we have ripped apart the absurdly long French interior sofa to create the structure of the bridge, thus dismantling, splintering, and fracturing the world of Alexandre to construct the bridge from the detritus of war."


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