The play is a study in contrasts with the blindingly white stage vs. ripping, visceral emotions, a Medea for our time in which Jason is Lucas, who makes designer pharmaceuticals, and Medea is Anna, once a physician and successful head of the lab where both worked. Anna has been driven mad by rage, sparked by her husband’s infidelity. Rage and instability take over until she ends up destroying herself and everyone around her.
The Dreyfus Affair feels very appropriate in today’s xenophobic, anxious times. Combining live orchestral music, singing, spoken word, projections and elaborate period costumes , the production relates the chilling story of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a decorated French Jewish officer, who was falsely accused of high treason, arrested, speedily tried, convicted and imprisoned on the hell-hole of Devil’s Island. Written by Eve Wolf and directed by Donald T. Sanders, this multi-media production illuminates the 1894 events that had a decades-long reverberation in the political landscape of France and the rest of the world and still reverberates.
I only managed to get to The Beauty Queen of Leenane on its very last day at BAM, a Sunday matinee—in fact Super Bowl Sunday. This momentous annual event seemed to have little effect on McDonagh fans, and BAM's Harvey Theater was nearly full. The audience was of more than the usual interest, because, as the play took its course, many members of the audience seemed to know what was going to happen in advance. Only the special decorum of legitimate theater seemed to prevent some of them from calling out the lines ahead of the actors, as was the practice of denizens of the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square at the Study Period screenings of Casablanca. These people had seen the show at the BAM run at least once before, and in many cases, I'm sure, back in the late 1990s, when it catapulted its author Martin McDonagh to fame and fortune. On the other hand, the audience was alive to the affecting events in the story, gasping or ahhing at unpleasant turns of events, as they unfolded.
The Winter’s Tale has had a checkered career over the centuries. Its bipartite structure, with two lines of action, separated by many years, of strongly contrasting character offended the Aristotelian canon all-too-blatantly for the classicizing generations of the Restoration and Enlightenment. Acts I through III have every promise of ending with the most bitterly tragic outcome. This current is diverted to a happy ending in the last two acts, introduced by yet a third genre, the pastoral, in a staged enactment of a sheep-shearing festival. When the play began to find its way to the stage in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, producers and actors saw in it a vehicle for over-the-top, classically inspired spectacle, as well as one of the great Shakespearean roles, Leontes, who is Iago and Othello rolled into one. It provided a powerful vehicle for Garrick, Kemble, and Kean. And three rich female roles as well, None of which were lost on the great actresses of the past 250 years.
This is probably the best occasion for me to come out of the closet and confess my secret vice—a mild fondness for the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. A viewing of NYGASP's The Yeomen of the Guard with an entirely unvictorian companion set me to thinking about certain genres of theatre and opera in which performance practices are prescribed by tradition or even some legal entity. NYGASP is well-known for throwing in a few uncanonical details, but basically they cleave to D'Oyly Carte's no longer legally binding restrictions, because their audience of devotees expect that—in fact they derive great pleasure from stage routines which have no meaning whatsover in contemporary theater outside of a G & S. Perhaps the tastes of loving audiences have proven more binding than the D'Oyly Carte copyrights.
By now the word is that Anna Nicole, by Mark-Antony Turnage and librettist Richard Thomas, is likely to be the New York City Opera’s last production. If the City Opera is dying, it is going out magnificently, with its greatly reduced season setting a model for opera houses in the US and around the world. The 2013-14 season, if it takes place, includes the important contemporary opera discussed here, a 2011 commission by the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, followed by a long-forgotten setting of Metastasio’s Endimione by Johann Christian Bach, a staged performance of Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle, and finally one staple of the standard operatic repertory, Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, the final instalment in Christopher Alden’s innovative staging of the three Mozart-Da Ponte operas. The schedule is small, but every opera has a vital reason to be in it.
While I sought tickets for this production with alacrity, I approached my seat at BAM's Harvey Theater with some misgiving, and it had nothing to do with Santo Loquasto's elegant, perceptive, and functional set, which was in plain view on stage. It was rather the recurrent suspicion that a prominent Hollywood actor's visitations of the stage so often turn out to be indulgences more nourishing for the actor's ego than for the audience. Perhaps Kevin Spacey's Richard III haunted the stage like the king's murdered relatives. But, if you consider Turturro's career, his experience on stage is extensive, and he is hardly a mainstream Hollywood actor. As the play began and especially once Mr. Turturro appeared, I couldn't help watching closely for some weakness or affectation that might undermine the role. What a terrible attitude to see a play, I admit!
Thomas Adès' Powder her Face is now almost twenty years old, and the composer, now 42, has only strengthened his spell on audiences, organizers, and musicians. We have grown accustomed to trusting Mr. Adès to deliver works that are not only cleverly and soundly constructed, but also emotionally absorbing and rewarding in a way representative of the representative trends in music today. My neighbor at BAM warned me that this would not be The Tempest and that I should not expect to find maturity in the opera. Adès was in fact 24 when Powder her Face received its premiere at the Cheltenham Festival. As I looked and listened, the opera seemed a model of precocious maturity in comparison with the Pythonesque production it received from Jay Scheib, who is in fact Adès' senior by two years.