A Night of Chamber Performances in New York With & Without Puppets (Double Review)

Rhymes With Opera (L to R: Robert Maril, Elisabeth Halliday and Bonnie Lander) performing David Smooke’s Criminal Element at JACK Space in Brooklyn, July 11th, 2013–Photo courtesy of Regina DeLuisecriminalelement2

Rhymes With Opera
Criminal Element
An opera by David Smooke
Also featuring 12 one-minute operas by various composers
JACK, Brooklyn, NY
Thursday, July 11th, 2013

criminalelementA small but full and dedicated sold-out audience filed into JACK Space in Brooklyn last night to witness the first performance of the fully-staged version of Criminal Element, a one-act chamber opera commissioned by Rhymes With Opera from Baltimore-based composer David Smooke originally in 2010, when it was being performed as a concert-only work in selected cities.

The new version was arranged as a theater-in-the-round with a tent in the center and a string quartet (SONAR New Music Ensemble), off to stage right, but before the main piece, there was an all-new set of one-minute “operas” by various composers strung together as a single work, and the 3 vocalists (Elisabeth Halliday, Bonnie Lander and Robert Maril) entered dressed in all white and proceeded to sing using a great deal of stage movement and utilizing wireless mike headsets and lit-clipboards with sheet music. The one-minute pieces themselves sounded as if they could have been segments produced from the same composer for the same project, but you could see that each composer (the ones that wrote these pieces consist of  Judah Adashi, Nomi Epstein, Alexandra Gardner, Tim Hansen, and many others) came back with something that was uniquely their own idea brought into the group collective.  My favorite one was Nomi Epstein’s “R.W.O. Minute”–A fine example of the composers taking great advantage of the minute-long concept.

Clocking in at 45 mintues, Criminal Element followed. The idea of making this production a multi-media collaboration with literally 3 separate arts (music, video and puppetry–The puppets, created by Valeska Populoh, are papier mache pieces that are molded as very large heads and hands, and used rather cryptically) makes for a very ambitiously busy post-minimal opera, but something that certainly makes an emotional point. The opera is sung in a constructed gibberish, but although I am not completely well-versed in the opera’s story (David based it on the banking scandal cases of both Jerome Kerveil and Nicholas Leeson), it resonated with a feeling of hopelessness in a world of high-pressured workplaces, and it seemed to make its statement through that. Very strong performances from the 3 vocalists, and they are also gifted musicians as they provided some accompaniment with the quartet.

And we even got to be part of the show–The stagehands gave the audience some boxes (starting from opposite ends of the seats) of hand-crafted paper birds. I suddenly wondered if we were supposed to throw these at Elisabeth Halliday while she was face-down at the desk–We weren’t even instructed or told anything about these birds before showtime, but we basically ended up simply moving them up-and-down to simulate the outdoors by the shore. We even were allowed to keep them. 🙂

The opera is set to have its second performance in Baltimore at Area 405 on Saturday, July 13th.


Ecouter (L to R: Amelie Brodeur, Nikola Ragusa, and Natalie Spehar) performing at CULTUREfix in NYC on 7/11/13–Photos of Ecouter here (and below of Brodeur and Spehar) courtesy of Son Pham_MG_7812

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Ecouter, on their short summer tour, came to NY on this night (as well as the 12th at Goodbye-Blue-Monday) to perform pieces from the crowdfunded debut CD they released earlier this year. A very talented trio of musicians (some of which play more than one instrument), they presented some crisp performances of the album pieces in order of their appearance.

Very surprising to me (regardless of the fact that she had to settle for a digital rental) was the piano prowess of Amelie Brodeur, who is equally as brilliant a flutist. Normally, I am not a fan of performers that want to flaunt that they are versed in more than one instrument as it can smack of exploitation, but she made such an incredible sound and proved how useful a digital keyboard can be.

_MG_7871Nikola Ragusa, another skillful flutist, switched between flute and alto-flute on the mournful “Adios Nonino” by Astor Piazzolla. The live performances seemed to turn up the emotional hold on these works, and I felt close to tears at times. Equally sad but brilliant for the sweet surprise of vocal performances from both Amelie and cellist Natalie Spehar (who btw, continues to prove she’s among the sharpest-sounding concert cellists in the unsigned new music world) was “Un Canadien Errant-1842”, and although a folk song, it picks up the tradition of new music sung-chamber pieces like David Lang’s version of “Heroin” or Martin Bresnick’s arrangement of Jack Bruce’s “As You Said” as sort of a reward for people possibly longing for a song or two after a program of strictly instrumental concert music.

I am just very moved by the fact that these musicians are people that travel far and wide to do what they love, and there is no way that this kind of spirit that exists in these three artists isn’t going to get far in this universe.

Rhymes With Opera.org

Ecouter (their bandcamp page)

2 thoughts on “A Night of Chamber Performances in New York With & Without Puppets (Double Review)

  1. Pingback: A Night of Chamber Performances in New York With & Without Puppets (Double Review) | The Sybaritic Singer

  2. Pingback: A Night of Chamber Performances in New York With & Without Puppets (Chris McGovern) | The Sybaritic Singer

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