BWW Reviews: Gotham Chamber Opera's US Premiere of THE RAVEN Cries 'Nevermore'

BWW Reviews: Gotham Chamber Opera's US Premiere of THE RAVEN Cries 'Nevermore'

BWW Reviews: Gotham Chamber Opera's US Premiere of THE RAVEN Cries 'Nevermore'

When New York's Gotham Chamber Opera--in collaboration with the Gerald Lynch Theatre at John Jay College--presented Toshio Hosokawa's THE RAVEN in its US premiere last week, as part of the NY Philharmonic Biennial, the composer could not have wished for a production that made a better case for it.

The brilliant staging and choreography (not to mention co-scenic design) was by Luca Veggeti--with projections by Adam Larsen and lighting by Clifton Taylor--and it was wondrously performed by mezzo Fredrika Brillembourg and dancer Alessandra Ferri. Conductor and Gotham Artistic Director Neal Goren had full control of the dozen musicians in this difficult score.

Yet, despite the company's best efforts--and a wonderful concert opener based on an Edgar Allan Poe story, "Mask of the Red Death"--this was a less-than-fulfilling evening, mostly because the composer doesn't seem to have connected with the poem by Poe that inspired the work. Obviously, the composer doesn't need to explain himself to us--but it would be nice to have better connected with the piece. The somber, atonal score ("Once upon a midnight dreary..." indeed) neither illuminated nor drew power from Poe. And, in particularly, it was unclear to me why he chose to alternate between the sung-through vocal line and the Sprechstimme segments--spoken with no musical no rhyme or reason defining what was sung and what was recited. Brillembourg's singing was moody and tireless,however, as she went seamlessly between the two styles required of her.

The real thrill of the evening was seeing the interaction of Brillembourg and Ferri, as her shadow. The dancer may have retired from the ballet stage, but she is still a mesmerizing presence to behold, and Brillembourg was an agile partner, physically as well as vocally. Dressed alike (by Peter Speliopoulos), they were mirrors of despair--reflections of each other, whether one saw the Ferri role as the narrator's hallucination or simply another aspect of him/her.

As alluded to earlier, the concert began with a performance of Andre Caplet's LE MASQUE DE LA MORT ROUGE, for quartet and "chromatic harp soloist." Despite its brevity, it was the most interesting musical part of the evening, with sensational solo work by Sevan Magen, who was both chilling and startling--two things the Hosokawa never achieved.


Photo: Neal Goren, conductor (left), mezzo Fredrika Brillembourg (center), dancer Alessandra Ferri (right)

Photo by Richard Termine

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.