Monday, August 28, 2017

Apotheosis in Bushwick

Vivaldi & Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater
The Muse
June 24, 2017

A mother emotes over the profoundest loss
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
It was a night unlike any other out at the Muse with LoftOpera. It was the company’s first excursion into the baroque and for the occasion they put together a mash up all their own. In a break with the past party vibe one has come to expect from an evening at LoftOpera, the general tone of the evening was somber, and rightly so. There was a seat for everybody and all the seats were full, which made it feel like a more civil outing than the usual sprint for a spot and people squeezing in anywhere they can, including on the floor.

Husband and wife suffer alone, together
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
The evening we went was well attended but fortunately the venue wasn’t bursting at the seams. In fact, the vibe was mellower, which perfectly suited the music. And everybody around us was in rapture with it.

It was plaintive and reflective, beautifully executed by the orchestra, breathtakingly sung. The whole product was extremely high quality with what would even seem to be luxury casting. The cast of two singers, soprano Heather Buck and countertenor Randall Scotting, were truly excellent and the orchestra was as tight as it has ever been at Loft.

At first impact, the production also came across as a rather elaborate outing for the company. An elevated catwalk crossed the space in a “V” with stage-like platform along one of the long walls framed by tall scaffolding and a row of projection screens.

Experiencing this music live in such an intimate and informal context moved me in ineffable ways. It brought me back to the days of writing my dissertation when I listened to this plaintive and reflective sub-genre of baroque music on heavy rotation. My eyes teared up from the first bars with emotion and the power of recognition.

 Brian Gilling at the helm of the orchestra
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
When the orchestra eased into the opening piece by Vivaldi (Sonata à 4 al Santo Sepolcro in E flat major) the projections began to show a series of highly mannerist video recordings of the male and female leads in close up grieving to extremes and played back in slow motion. They really helped to set the scene and made it clear that the evening was really going to be all about tone.

Emotionally raw at every turn
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
Director John de los Santos abstracted out of the story of the death of Jesus on the cross a drama of a husband and wife suffering from the loss of a child, potentially not necessarily the Messiah himself, although the text was sung in the original Latin and even the supertitles remained faithful to what was actually being sung to the letter, including all its references to mortem Christi and the Lord and the rest.

Slow motion, highly mannerist projections set the tone
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
The concept made me think of Lars Von Trier’s Anti-Christ and the torment that couple inflicts on themselves and each other in a similar situation. Need I say more? 

Consolation is never enough
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
They attempt to console one another. They go through the motions of their daily life together as a couple and, heightened by the extreme beauty of the music, it is so very poignant. They sit down to dinner, for example at one point, but they only manage to pour themselves a glass of wine. Thus, they remain lodged in their own personal suffering. When confronted with such pain, each of us remains an island. The grieving process is seen to be just that insular. But they take us there, unflinchingly, and don’t let us down, no matter how hard it is to watch.

In fact, the whole thing climaxes with a moment of in extremis exaltation. After all that the couple has been through on their own but also together, the mother in one way or another is able to sublimate her grief and as the orchestra lurches into the final bars we watch breathlessly as she climbs up onto the scaffolding and experiences a kind of resurrection or apotheosis, or are we to understand this as the assumption of Mary in more explicitly theological terms? In any case, it was unspeakably beautiful. The final image emblazoned in your mind is that of the mother of Christ crucified in her own right, with her arms outspread and her head hung low from exhaustion in her grief.

The auteur vision played the music and text straight (thank goodness!)
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
It is yet another sign that the hipster scene in the city has grown up. I can’t help but think that this was truly an adult night out in the kind of place that one might have caught a alt-rock band or a DJ night even just a few years ago. Filling it with a group of young people eager to ponder the depths of their souls to baroque music makes me so very happy.

– Lui

A mother ascends
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
An ascension, another crucifixion, an apotheosis
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco
Another great show from LoftOpera, another angel gets her wings
Photo credit: Allegri con Fuoco

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