Performing Arts: Music
May 21, 2014
Trust in the You of Now (Part I of III) may be a “chamber opera,” but each element is complete with equal responsibility in getting the point across. The point, however, is thankfully hard to define. From the proverbial title to the work’s commentary on follies of post-modern life through a story that takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth observed from afar by time-traveling astronauts, the differentiated and evenhanded use of music, dance, and theatre creates more of an environment than a linear tale. Information comes up disjointedly, integrating us more fully, for the state of alienation is exactly how each character exists – therefore shall we.

Robert Boston’s score is less operatic than it is cinematic – he creates atmospheres that allow us to take a fanciful story without scrutiny. Rather than arias and choruses, he devises musical events in which the imagery lives. Each movement has one consistent drive – from spacious piano clusters to syncopated, harmonically dense marches. In a sardonic move, the astronauts (Joe and José) recount the history of, presumably, our extinct generation of earthlings to the groove of a jazzy drum and bass undercurrent.

Three sopranos play a liminal role, sharing pit with orchestra. They serve as the voices of Earth’s current inhabitants – sentient robots and frogs – but what they sing comes out as an inscrutable language of nonsense syllables, enabling the voices to be both communicative and purely sonic. Not tied to one character, they occasionally latch on to the English dialogue between the astronauts. They are ethereally omniscient narrators – the one trustworthy source of what is happening, conveniently unintelligible.

The motivic investigation of traditional opera lies in Giada Ferrone’s choreography. The drones and the frogs each have a distinct movement vocabulary, and characters within each community are highlighted through particular dynamics. A robot quartet sternly steps in a grid. They are precise but soft, splitting into a double duet of contrapuntal strolls which is violently broken by Drone Master Ricky Wenthen who, maintaining their angularity, does so with an amped-up jagged intensity normally reserved for Saturday morning cartoons. The frogs are fluid, floppy, and buoyant. Their spatial patterns are vague; their energy bursts in all directions. Seeing the two vocabularies harmonized is formally balancing while serving a plot of attempted frog/robot coexistence. Mid-battle, frogs spin rigid drones in the air like gears, but between protagonists Willy-Willy and Fictor, that contentious pairing of movement turns tender and consonant.

Librettist Kimberly Pau straps us in Astronaut Joe’s perspective. He and José are present only in voice-over, making the effect quite literal. We understand choreography and music through their recreational interpretive role-playing, which, for all we know, could be inaccurate altogether. Their play is a side-effect of their isolation – a way to pass endless time that subconsciously reflects their friendship. Through it, we come to know Fictor and Willy-Willy, visually females, as cross-species same-sex lovers. Ambiguous visual and sonic inputs are nailed down by subjective commentaries. The male gaze has rarely been presented with such compassion.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

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