Monodramas at NYC Opera
It is a long story about how I ended up at Lincoln Center on Tuesday night for NYC Opera’s presentation of “Monodramas”. Suffice it to say that I’ve been trying to get up to speed on contemporary music and when I heard about this opportunity to hear the work of Schoenberg, Feldman and Zorn on one bill, I knew it was important for my education. I was not disappointed.
Basically “Monodramas” is a collection of three one-act solo operas: “La Machine de l’Être” by John Zorn, “Erwartung” by Arnold Schoenberg and “Neither” by Morton Feldman. Each of them is engaging with essential ideas of modernism and the evening as a whole is like a primer in the evolution of the contemporary aesthetic.
The evening is directed by Michael Counts (of Gales Gates fame) and he manages to weave the three pieces together into a surprisingly cohesive whole. Though each piece stands on its own, Counts creates an aesthetic reality that binds them through costume, staging and video. The supernumeraries are rocking burqas and two evil-looking guides (a man and a woman) lead us through the proceedings – unveiling the singers one at a time.
The sets, lighting and video are stunning but what is really amazing are the singers. Zorn’s piece, inspired by the drawings of Antonin Artaud, is sung by Anu Komsi; Schoenberg’s is performed by Kara Shay Thomson; and the Feldman piece (with a libretto by Samuel Beckett) is sung by Cyndia Sieden. Each singer is exceptional. This is incredibly difficult music to interpret and without exception they deliver astonishing performances.
Zorn is the new kid on the block and his piece is the first on the bill, kind of setting the stage for what is to come. His atonality and complexity, his non-language libretto, is the culmination of the work that Schoenberg set in motion nearly 100 years earlier. Schoenberg’s piece is a Freudian stream-of-consciousness thrill ride into a woman’s surreal subconscious. And Feldman, setting Beckett to music, creates a hypnotic existential landscape that is at once terrifying and beguiling.
I’m not a music critic, so I can’t really write about this with the authority I would like to. But I was struck by how adventurous the program was and how curatorially acute. George Steel, the artistic director of NYC Opera, has put together a program that not only contextualizes modernism, but pushes the audience to the edge. What an exciting, challenging program that any downtown venue would be hard-pressed to equal for experimentalism and daring. I was really blown away and from what I hear there are affordable tickets to be had.
If you think you know what’s what in contemporary performance, then don’t miss this extraordinary program. I think it runs ’til April 8. Click here for more information and to buy tickets.