Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda /I Have No Stories to Tell You

Feb 26, 2014

The New York Times

Vivien Schweitzer

As ticket holders for a performance by the Gotham Chamber Opera filed into the Arms and Armor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday evening, some did a double take when they saw a soldier in modern uniform sitting behind a glass enclosure, rolling a joint.

The unexpected live exhibition was part of Gotham’s site-specific performances of Monteverdi’s “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.” This short opera depicts a battle between the Christian soldier Tancredi and a Muslim soldier, who is his lover, Clorinda, in disguise. After he mortally wounds her, she is baptized as she dies in his arms.

A well-heeled crowd, stood around a large circle of dirt on the floor, where the action took place. A small Baroque ensemble, conducted by Neal Goren and shadowed by the knights in armor, performed behind the audience. Subtitles were awkwardly projected high on the walls, for lack of any other space.

Two narrators in modern suits (the tenor Samuel Levine and the luminous-voiced mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer) relayed the action while walking around the circle. The battle unfolded with slow, stylized gestures between the hero (the baritone Craig Verm) and the heroine (the mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton).

The audience then trooped into the Medieval Sculpture Hall for the premiere of “I Have No Stories to Tell You,” an alluring one-act opera by Lembit Beecher, featuring an effective libretto by Hannah Moscovitch.

The staging of the new work proved more satisfying, over all, than the Monteverdi, despite plentiful enticing touches in the earlier piece. (Both were directed by Robin Guarino.)

Mr. Beecher’s opera, cleverly devised as a companion piece to the Monteverdi, with a similar theme of identity, told the story of Sorrel (sung with dramatic conviction by Ms. Clayton), a woman with post-traumatic stress disorder who returns from war unable to communicate with her husband, Daniel.

Tancredi’s foe is revealed to be his lover; the opposite occurs when Sorrel’s friend and fellow soldier Noah (well sung by Mr. Levine) assaults her.

Mr. Beecher’s emotive score featured a period ensemble and electronics, a vivid, eerie sound world that meshed evocatively with the action taking place on the rusty-looking 40-foot-long wooden ramp. Nightmarish fragments and skittering riffs unfolded as Ms. Clayton clawed her way up the ramp and slid down, suffering from flashbacks. A three-woman chorus of narrators (Ms. Fischer, Sarah Tucker and Rachel Calloway) circled ominously.

There were moments of arresting tension in the half-hour work, whose recitatives and dramatic arc flowed succinctly. As Daniel, Mr. Verm sang passionately as the frustrated husband, desperately trying to reach his traumatized wife.