Get Cultured — October 30, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Not Your Grandma’s Opera: Baden Baden 1927

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The Gotham Chamber Opera, which prides itself on innovation in intimate venues, kicked off its 2013-2014 season this past Wednesday with Baden Baden 1927 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theatre. The production is made up of four mini-operas of diverse subject matter and is a recreation of the actual 1927 festival; it shifts seamlessly between storylines, from Greek mythology to the present day, staying true to the original material without being outdated. The great challenge facing opera is that of appealing to modern audiences, as many young people conceive of the medium as something best left to the erudite and wealthy; Baden Baden 1927 proves that this does not have to be the case.

In the first piece, a gigantic, abstruse painting occupies most of the stage; people in black mill about chatting, and anyone who has ever attended a gallery opening or other art-related event can imagine the pretentious conversation taking place against the stark white walls. L’enlèvement d’Europe manages to make this cosmopolitan scene a backdrop for the ancient story of Zeus and Europa. The latter is played by soprano Maeve Höglund; her voice and crimson dress are stunning.

PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine

PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine

Most notable of the operas is the second, a staging of the princess and the pea story, re-imaged through reality television and the Kardashians. When will you again have the opportunity to see a mezzo soprano like Jennifer Rivera singing in a leopard print dress and false eyelashes so thick it’s a wonder she could keep her eyelids open? Soprano Helen Donath is hilarious as a thinly veiled Kris Jenner, and the piece as a whole oozes decadence and satire. Given the recent opera based on the life of Anna Nicole Smith, it seems the medium is adopting new material and methods of presentation.

PHOTO CREDIT - Richard Termine

PHOTO CREDIT – Richard Termine

Aesthetically, the last two operas are a nod to the period of the original staging, with flapper dresses and pinstripe suits replacing contemporary garb. The third piece, Hin und Zurück (There and Back), deals uniquely with the passage of time; in just eight minutes, a domestic breakfast scene becomes the site of a murder and suicide, and the clock is then turned back, line by line. Mahagonny Songspiel, a set of six songs without dialogue, follows this. Baden Baden 1927 is best likened to a collection of short stories rather than a long novel; between the varying storylines and the condoms thrown into the audience by one of the singers, this is definitely not your grandmother’s opera.

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