Hell and More…

So this weekend was pretty low-key show-wise. We saw Catch out at Galapagos, we saw Alain Buffard’s Mauvais Genre over at Danspace Project. It was great. Read the review in the NY Times) and we saw Eileen Myles and Michael Webster’s Hell, as well as staying for the talkback on Sunday.

usually we’re a bit leery of talkbacks but recently we’ve started to change our minds. sunday was particularly good because both Eileen and Michael are so well-spoken and articulate about the work. The show is a surprise – it is funny and accessible and easy to follow. At least, in its own surreal way. Basically it is the story of an east village poet, not unlike Myles, who gets mugged and goes off into this hallucination/daydream of being in Hell. In Hell a skeevy literary agent has commissioned her to write the first “Goth Poem” in 500 years – meaning a huge epic poem. And so they tour Hell to get started. Hell is this weird place governed by some Trees and populated with all kinds of freaks and aberrations as well as an Eternal Warrior named Louis.

The whole show is really entertaining and engaging, very surreal and dreamlike. the staging is cool – they have all these little pinhole video surveillance cameras mounted on posts on stage. the performers – all of whom are excellent vocalists – often sing into the cameras and the video is edited and manipulated in real time to create some very interesting effects. Also , it is great to see the opera singers mouths move up close – you can really make out all the words.

There’s a lot to be said about the piece, but mostly I was struck by how it really is a “people’s opera”. which is remarkable. Opera used to be a popular form and has become this rarefied discipline for only the elites. it is perceived as being largely irrelevant and inaccessible. Eileen and Michael have, I think successfully, created an opera that is truly opera but is still for the people. It has a distinctly downtown/alternative feel but could just as easily be presented in a much grander context. Dramaturgically and musically it exists in the realm of high art but with the intent of engaging with popular issues and with an approachable presentational aesthetic.

From what I hear there is a bit of a renaissance going on with opera and if Hell is any indication of what’s to come then I’m looking forward to more.

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