Glimmerglass Opera tossed caution to the winds to break new ground Saturday night with its double bill of Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater” (1736) and David Lang’s “The Little Match Girl Passion” (2007). It was not your usual evening of operatic entertainment.
‘Stabat Mater’ and ‘The Little Match Girl Passion
WHERE: Glimmerglass Festival, Route 80, Cooperstown
WHEN: Tuesday, Thursday, Aug. 3, 9, 18, and 22
HOW MUCH: $132-$26
MORE INFO: 607-547-2255 or www.glimmerglass.org
It was the first time the company had offered an oratorio, a heavily choreographed work, a world premiere, a revised score by the composer and the use of 24 local children as a children’s chorus. Visually and aurally, the evening was both a blast of fresh air and a challenging experience for the large crowd. Going on the basis that artistic director Francesca Zambello had initially wanted to do the Lang piece, which she also directed, pairing it with the Pergolesi was an interesting choice.
What made it a creative one, was that she asked choreographer/director Jessica Lang to have eight dancers reflect the text as they fluidly spun about and entwined the two singers as they sang in Latin about Mary’s suffering as she witnesses Jesus’ crucifixion. While soprano Nadine Sierra and that hot new countertenor from the Met Anthony Roth Costanzo sang with a focused intensity, passion and blended in surprisingly similar vocal ranges, the dancers moved in more serene wave-like patterns and gestures reminiscent of Paul Taylor or Martha Graham. Costumes by Beth Goldenberg were in earth tones in a jersey material and a long scarf acted to drape as head wraps to create iconic images or over the cross-section of the cross, which was a massively huge log. Mark McCullough’s golden/lavender lighting was subtle. Speranza Scappucci conducted an alert string orchestra.
Initially, many in the crowd might not have known what to make of it all. The coupling of the modern dance with the baroque music seemed to make the Pergolesi modern even as the dance’s more peaceful, minimalist moves didn’t always blend with the music’s stern, intense focus. The crowd exploded in such a wild enthusiasm that it seemed to surprise the cast, who broke out in big smiles.
Zambello asked Lang to compose something for the children’s choir. “When We Were Children” uses a line from Saint Paul that begins “When I was a child.” The 24 children dressed in early 1900s winter clothing made their way to the stage to sing in staggered, atonal, a cappella lines. This short segment immediately segued into Lang’s one-acter, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and is considered a masterpiece by many.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story, it had four singers telling the story as the kids’ chorus provided some of the action with one of its members acting as the poor little girl who dies from exposure on New Year’s Eve. A bass drum, bells and xylophone provided minimal musical tones. Lighting was through spotlight on a dark stage, with stage snow falling. Costumes were in dark hues. Props were minimal. David Moody conducted the action from the pit.
Nothing was melodic. Lines were often intoned. Lang used repetitive word text to underscore upper harmonies. Sometimes this proved a bit long and annoying. It was all very original, very different, very un-operatic and very theatrical, but all well done.
Other performances of the double bill are July 23, 25, Aug. 3, 9, 18, and 22.