Gotham @ LPR: Orientale

Oct 03, 2012

The Wall Street Journal

Heidi Waleson

A Future Red in Tooth and Claw

The imaginative Gotham Chamber Opera is experimenting with nontraditional venues: Later this season, it will be staging Francesco Cavalli's "Eliogabalo" in a nightclub and Daniel Catán's "La hija de Rappaccini" in a garden. Also planned is a production of Monteverdi's "Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda" at the Arms and Armor collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and on Monday Gotham made a preview of that work the centerpiece of "Orientale," an hourlong concert at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

The program, staged and choreographed by Austin McCormick, played cleverly with the idea of East meets West, juxtaposing Eastern-themed music by such Europeans as Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jean-Phillipe Rameau and Georges Bizet (performed by Gotham's Early Instrument Ensemble and music director-pianist Neal Goren) with traditional Armenian music (performed by Maya, a flute, harp and percussion trio). It was tied together by the dancers of Company XIV, Zane Pihlstrom's black-and-gold costumes for the dancers and singers, and Jeanette Yew's atmospheric lighting. One piece segued seamlessly into the next.

In "Combattimento," a narrator (the expressive baritone Michael Kelly) relates an episode from Tasso's "Gerusalemme liberata," in which the crusader Tancredi battles the Saracen princess Clorinda, thinking she is a man. (He is in love with her, but only recognizes her when she is near death.) Mr. Kelly made the most of this violent scene's ferocity—backed up by the vehement strings and continuo—and the brief but telling moments in which the protagonists (baritone Zachary Altman and soprano Maeve Höglund) spoke for themselves. Dancers Sean Gannon and Cailan Orn gave the fight an erotic edge with their charging and grappling, and its aftermath, in which the dying Clorinda asks for baptism, a painful serenity.