A Union of East and West, Conceived With Courage
Since it opened in 2008, the chic Bleecker Street nightclub Le Poisson Rouge has provided an offbeat but amenable home for classical chamber-music ensembles, soloists and new-music groups. Opera, understandably, has been slower to take root, but lately some small, savvy companies have appeared there. The resourceful, risk-taking Gotham Chamber Opera rose to the challenge on Monday evening with an inventive mix of disparate music and dance.
“Orientale,” the evening’s program, took as its premise a meeting of Eastern and Western cultures, with results that were appropriately lively and occasionally slightly rough. In introductory remarks from the stage Neal Goren, the company’s music director, explained that “Orientale” was built around Monteverdi’s scena “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda,” a succinct drama set during the First Crusade, which the company intends to perform in a future season.
Here it served as the centerpiece of a near-seamless span that mingled works from the classical tradition with instrumental pieces derived from or inspired by Eastern cultures, chiefly Armenian. The opening sequence segued from Lully’s “March Pour la Cérémonie des Turcs” into “Asparani Bar,” a lively Armenian piece, and on to a song by the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski, “Allah, Akbar, Allah!”
Handling ceremonial pomp, rusticity and exotic allure in swift succession, Austin McCormick, the stage director and choreographer, responded with a suitably polyglot stylistic mix and an aggressive sensuality. Costumed by Zane Pihlstrom in a seductive cabaret vision of Middle Eastern garb, dancers from Mr. McCormick’s Company XIV stamped, circled and writhed in flamboyantly pansexual fusions of Baroque and contemporary gesture.
Vocalists too were incorporated into the choreography, their brave efforts rendering creditable results. That some of the singing felt uneven could be ascribed to an absence: the mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera was sidelined by illness. Maeve Höglund, a striking soprano, shouldered most of Ms. Rivera’s assignments in addition to her own; Naomi O’Connell, an impressive young Juilliard mezzo-soprano, joined Ms. Höglund in a sweetly floated Flower Duet from Delibes’s “Lakmé.”
Not everything coexisted easily. Schumann’s “Aus den Östlichen Rosen,” though sung warmly by the baritone Zachary Altman with Mr. Goren at the piano, felt like too abrupt a gear shift after the buoyant swirl of “Kochari Bar,” an Armenian dance. Ms. Höglund’s sweet rendition of Bizet’s “Adieux de l’Hôtesse Arabe,” which followed the Schumann, was overpowered by the dancer Laura Careless’s brusque contortions.
Still, on balance this ambitious fusion yielded agreeable results, including almost uniformly fine work from the Maya Trio and the Gotham Chamber Opera Early Instrument Ensemble. One more vocalist, the baritone Michael Kelly, sang well in two Monteverdi selections, including the fiery “Combattimento.”