BWW Reviews: Modernist Score Releases Trials of Skylight's El Cimarrón
The truth in a story seen on stage can move an audience to powerful reflection. The Skylight Music Theatre presents a brief production run of El Cimarrón in the Studio Theatre at Milwaukee's Broadway Theatre Center to christen the New Year. In the first days of 2014, a stage where the uncomfortable truth of inhumanity unfolds through the trials of a runaway Cuban slave, Esteban Montejo, and then comes to poetic life through the contemporary and modernist music of Hans Werner Henze's opera. Artistic and Music Director Viswa Subbaraman collaborates with the accomplished vision of Stage Director Eugenia Arsenis so El Cimarrón mesmerizes the audience with virtuosity on multiple levels.
Originally intended as what Subbaraman and Henze described as a "recital for four musicians," El Cimarrón's seventy-five minutes plays as a tour de force for a one man stage performance by baritone Eric McKeever. Three musicians, flutist Scott Metlicka, guitarist Nathan Wysock and percussionist Michael Lorenz, were then conducted and directed by Subbaraman, all visible to the audience on set. To watch these four gifted musicians coordinate and improvise the score for each performance on either side of the intimate stage with McKeever front and center integrates the opera into an evocative, unforgettable live arts experience.
Listening to and then absorbing the tonal qualities of these rhythmic instruments establishes Cuban culture on the stage by beating conga, clanging cowbells or gongs, strumming jaw harp and pounding thunder sheets to name only a few of the pieces developing the sensitive themes. Each unique rhythm underscores the disturbing emotional trauma underlying Esteban's life that spanned 113 years beginning in 1860. First, as a child torn away from his parents, and sold, then beaten for trying to escape the slavery on the sugar plantation, finally living as an exiled recluse in the Island forests and eventually fighting for Cuban freedom.
The music mingles with a libretto by Han Magnus Enzenberger who transformed Esteban Mantejo's biography written by Miguel Barnet to fit the experimental score. A score encompassing poetry and story to ground and grow the universal roots for all those still enslaved in the contemporary world, whether man, woman or child still forced or "sold" into vaiours slaveries.