THE TEMPEST SONGBOOK
March 29, 2015
Neal Goren, artistic director and founder of the critically-applauded Gotham Chamber Opera has a way with dancers. More than any other opera director, he seeks the talents of dancers inviting them to choreograph, direct and perform in his productions. It’s this open-minded approach to chamber operas that attracted so many devoted supporters to the opening night performance and reception at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium in the Metropolitan Museum. A peripatetic troupe, the company performs in “found” spaces throughout the city. This makes it possible for Goren to tailor a piece to the proportions of his staging area and cast.
This time around, The Gotham Chamber Opera tackled a stripped down version of The Tempest Songbook. Luca Veggetti directed and choreographed an amalgam of music from Kaija Saariaho’s “The Tempest Songbook” and songs from John Dryden’s 1712 production of “The Tempest” – purportedly composed by Purcell. Effectively conducted by Mr. Goren, two singers and four Martha Graham Company dancers, — Abdiel Jacobsen, PeiJu Chien-Pott, Lloyd Mayor and Ying Xin animate the music. Despite an uneven start, soprano Jennifer Zetlan grounded her clear voice, adding warmth to the complex passages while engaging with the dancers. A dominant presence, bass-baritone Thomas Richards demonstrated his thorough control of the music through a rich, expressivity voice. Both singers moved comfortably throughout Vegetti’s naturalistic choreography.
By inter-locking music, poetry, music, movement and visual elements, The Tempest Songbook speaks almost equally through all these forms. Two large discs are suspended from the ceiling, one in front of the other. In what resembles a lunar-eclipse, an orange corona circles the darkened disc in back while images of the performers slip in and out of the dominant disc. The dancers execute grounded steps that rely on sustained holds, weightless drops and mysterious gestures. Eloquently performing abstract choreography, the four dancers rarely connect to one another—rather, they connect to the earth in grounded falls and recoveries. Dressed in casual pants and shirts, hair loose, they form a Greek chorus exciting the mortals’ journey.