The Avant-Garde Alcina

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Beauty (RB) and the Beast (our boar)
photo by David Adam Moore

Greetings all! I find myself back in New York City, working on what is without a doubt my weirdest, most avante-garde, most thought-provoking project yet. Along with the young director RB Schlather and the remarkable team he’s put together, I’m taking part in an installation of Handel’s Alcina at the Whitebox Art Center, on Broome St. in Soho.The idea is that our production – not just the performances, but the entire rehearsal process – is open to the public, free of charge. Suggested donation only. In a sense, our first rehearsal was our opening night, since we’ve had guests at every working session so far.

It’s cool, and it turns many ideas about what opera is, can, or should be right on their heads. What is the difference between a performer, a non-performing production member, an audience member familiar with the people and work being done, and an audience member who has no inside information? Who is a collaborator, who is an outsider, and what does each bring to the table? What constitutes a stage? Personally, many of my ideas of performing are being challenged: specifically, the idea of crafting the subtleties of a performance with great love and care before sharing it with an audience, as opposed to sharing the process itself. What makes a rehearsal a rehearsal, or a performance a performance? What does can transparency and openness offer to a work, and what do they take away? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but I’ve glad to be part of a project that is asking them. This is new for me, and, I suspect, new for everybody else, too… I’m unaware of any similar operatic venture, anywhere, ever. In keeping with the open-to-all attitude of the project, those not in New York can watch our rehearsals streaming live at the Whitebox website. I hope that lots of folks will watch, and that those of you who do will let me know what you think of the idea!

 

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Anne-Carolyn Bird, who plays my sweetheart, Morgana, endearing herself to the wall
photo by David Adam Moore

 

Of course all of this interesting stuff takes place without any discussion of the actual artistic expression happening in the piece itself. Alcina is by turns subtle, gorgeous, astonishing, and wild, whose plot is taken from the 16th-century epic poem of Ariosto, “Orlando Furioso,” which also provides the plot material for Handel’s Orlando and Ariodante, two other masterpieces of the baroque era. In our production, six people find themselves in place where anything can happen, and suffice to say that quite a bit does: sex, violence, cross-dressing, manipulation, seduction, and transformation, all that good stuff. It’s somewhat ironic that this great opera, now approaching its 275th anniversary, which is a cornerstone of what some people consider to the most buttoned-up, tradition-soaked corner of opera, is the vehicle for this cutting-edge project… but only somewhat. When a work of Handel’s is performed properly, it’s never boring: the material is deeply human, perennially relevant, sexy, and dangerous. That’s what makes a great work a great work, right?

There that is. If you’re in or around NYC, I hope you’ll come join us at the Whitebox, and if you’re not, get thee to the livestream link! Time for this tenor to get back to drilling recitativo!

 

[pictures by David Adam Moore, our glorious Melisso (and a fellow Oberlin graduate!)]

[pictured are the fair RB Schlather, our director, and the resplendent Anne-Carolyn Bird, who plays my sweetheart, Morgana]

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