The Raven

May 29, 2014

Huffington Post

David Finkle

The temptation to start ravin' about The Raven is too strong to resist. The one I'm talking about is the theater piece at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater. For the American premiere of composer Toshio Hosokawa's take on Edgar Allan Poe's popular, though gloomy, poem, Neal Goren conducts a Gotham Chamber Opera production with direction and choreography by Luca Veggetti.

Hosokawa writes in a somber mood to match Poe's story of a man who's grieving his deceased Lenore when he opens a chamber door that's being rapped and tapped upon. His visitor is a raven who perches on a bust of Pallas and whose sole comment -- as just about everyone knows who's ever read Poe -- is "nevermore." Goren and his 13 musicians, all on stage to the audience's left, maximize the ominously flowing score, and the effect is of anxiety made audible.

What goes on at the right side of the stage is likewise remarkable. That's where mezzo-soprano Fredrika Brillembourg sings and speak-sings Poe's text in a hypnotically piercing manner -- not vocally piercing but emotionally piercing. And she's to be congratulated not only for her singing but also for meeting the other demands made of her.

Interacting with her is Alessandra Ferri, who's been finding intriguing ways to dance after having retired from her appropriately celebrated ballet career. At times as she slithers and poses and stretches, she seems to represent the raven. At other times, when she reaches for Brillembourg's hand or twines around Brillembourg, she seems to represent another aspect of the bereaved singer, a mourning doppelganger.

Since Brillembourg and Ferri, though physically different, are dressed alike (by Peter Speliopoulos) in shades of grey and wear their hair long, the impression that they're both Poe's lamenting narrator is further enhanced. Even more than that, the tandem movements -- at one point Ferri extends herself as if in flight on the supine Brillembourg's bent knees -- suggest that the raven is symbolic of the narrator's entrenched despair.

There is one especially effective theatrical minute when Ferri is crouched upstage but suddenly seems to be moving on the other side of the upstage wall. The coup is courtesy of projectionist Adam Larsen as well as lighting designer Clifton Taylor.

For the benefit of those who haven't reread "The Raven" in a while, its opening line is, "Once upon a midnight dreary, as I pondered, weak and weary." With all the deft hands involved here, there's nothing weak and weary about it. Poe is quite nicely honored.

André Caplet's wordless musical setting of Poe's "Masque of the Red Death" precedesThe Raven. Here, harpist Sivan Magen is surrounded on the right side of the stage by four musicians as he turns the focal instrument into a percussive bone-chiller. Caplet doesn't take long to spin his musical version of the story, but he definitely achieves his intention to startle.