Above: from THE TEMPEST SONGBOOK, singers Jennifer Zetlan and Thomas Richards, and dancers PeiJu Chien-Pott and Abdiel Jacobsen; photo by Richard Termine. Click on the image to enlarge.
Saturday March 28th, 2015 - This long-awaited evening proved to be every bit as engrossing as I imagined it would be. Following last season's stunning production of THE RAVEN, Gotham Chamber Opera's Neal Goren again called upon choreographer/director Luca Veggetti for THE TEMPEST SONGBOOK, an imaginative fusion of song, dance, and drama performed with unfettered directness of purpose at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Above: from THE TEMPEST SONGBOOK, production photo by Richard Termine
As in THE RAVEN, this production of THE TEMPEST SONGBOOK is pared down to a sublime simplicity: no sets, no elaborate costumes or cluttered staging: just pure music - excellently played and sung - and sleek, expressive choreography performed by four of the dance world's most captivating artists. The only element of set decor, aside from a bench, was a large luminous orb suspended over the stage. On its textured surface, Jean-Baptiste Barrière's dreamlike projections - some of them real-time moving images of the onstage action - created an atmospheric element without detracting from the action of the singers and dancers. The simple, timeless costume designs (Peter Speliopoulos) flattered the wearers and allowed for ease of movement. Clifton Taylor's lighting at times cast dancing shadows upon the walls.
Above: Thomas Richards, Jennifer Zetlan, and the dancers; photo by Richard Termine
The score is a felicitous blending of the olde and the new: music attributed to Henry Purcell for a 1712 production of The Tempest has been woven together with the contemporary Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho's song cycle The Tempest Songbook in such a persuasive manner that a cohesive new opera has been born. The rhythmic variety and melodic richness of Purcell found a counter-poise in Ms. Saariaho's sometimes declamatory/sometimes other-worldly vocal settings.
Above: Jennifer Zetlan, Abdiel Jacobsen; photo by Richard Termine
The period instrument ensemble, seated onstage, drew us into this Tempest world immediately with a strikingly resonant prelude. The two singers, Jennifer Zetlan and Thomas Richards, showed consummate musicianship and were able to move effortlessly between the Purcell and Saariaho styles in the twinkling of an ear. Ms. Zetlan, petite and lovely - and possessed of a distinctive vocal energy - can sound girlish one moment and amply dramatic the next whilst Mr. Richards - voluminous of voice yet capable of honing his tone down to long-fading pianissimi with admirable control - was a commanding presence both vocally and physically. Both singers are blessed with crystal-clear diction, making the sub-titles unnecessary; they entered into the action with élan.
Above: Thomas Richards, Jennifer Zetlan, Abdiel Jacobsen
Luca Veggetti has been working frequently with the Martha Graham dancers in the last couple of seasons, and for THE TEMPEST SONGBOOK, four of this incredible Company's finest were called upon. Ying Xin and Lloyd Mayor were a shadow-couple: totally dressed in black and their faces veiled, they seemed by turns sinister or supportive as they moved deftly about the space in Luca's unique, trademark maneuvers. My only regret was that their masques withheld their beautiful faces from us...until the curtain calls.
Above:Thomas Richards, Abdiel Jacobsen; photo by Richard Termine
PeiJu Chien-Pott and Abdiel Jacobsen were more of this world; they both danced (and partnered) with the power and commitment that make their Graham performances so impressive. Abdiel used his entire body as an expressive instrument, and his face has a poetic, visionary aspect that makes watching him such a complete pleasure. PeiJu gave an astonishing performance; lithe and elegant of frame and silken of hair, she displayed extraordinary flexibility and a heaven-reaching extension. Her black boots gave her a grounded look, but her dancing soared. All four dancers, indeed, were thoroughly sublime: no wonder the Graham Company holds such an exalted place in my dance pantheon.
Above: PeiJu Chien-Pott portrait, from Oberon's Grove
Above: production photo by Richard Termine
In its Diaghilevian spirit of gathering the muses of music, dance, mime, and art together, Gotham Chamber Opera have given us yet another memorable production. The wondrous silence of the large audience as the work unfolded is testament to the spell cast by this exceptional presentation. Roses and champagne for everyone involved!