By Christopher Ludgate
Gotham Chamber Opera’s opening night gala of Baden Baden 1927 in New York City last night was an engaging visual feast for the senses. The production is an unwavering nod to the company’s mission to continue to facilitate the creative evolution of opera in a post modern era of mixed-media landscapes. Many houses around the globe are beginning to take this trend seriously, but Gotham, in its 12th season, proves with Baden that they continue to be keenly on the pulse of lively and relevant productions.
A fully-staged re-creation of these four one-act opera’s, that were originally performed in a festival in Baden, Germany in July, 1927, Baden Baden 1927 consciously takes you on a provocative journey through each of its quarters. Beginning with Darius Milhaud’s and Henri Hoppenot’s L’enlèvement d’Europe (The Abduction of Europa), the audience is lured to merge with spectators at a gallery and all are provoked to explore the meaning and direction of art, and the evening becomes an intimately honest one, as it often does with Gotham.
Scottish director, Paul Curran’s refreshing concept of constant dramatic physical movement illustrates this by making full use of a talented chorus with the attractive principals including the voluptuous Maeve Höglund, adorable Daniel Montenegro, John Cheek, Matthew Tuell, and Michael Mayes at the helm with a passionate score powerfully conducted by Neal Goren.
Goren and Gotham both begin to shine even brighter with the perfectly paced and unexpectedly accessible production of Ernst Toch’s and Benno Elken’s The Princess and the Pea. The engaging comic timing of the whole team, including that of Jennifer Rivera, Ms. Höglund, Mr. Montenegro, is infectiously effective. But, above all, the charms of the legendary soprano Helen Donath, who makes her return to the New York stage in an outstanding performance as the matriarch of a somewhat pompous, albeit royal family in this piece, is one of the major highlights of evening. It could be reality TV at its best.
Successfully facilitating the generous and tasteful art direction of Georg Basiletz, the collaboration of the lighting and the video design, by Driscoll Otto and Paul Hackenmueller respectively, works in unison throughout each piece, and continues to keep an up-tempo visual in Paul Hindemith’s Hin und zurück (There and Back), presenting a challenging temporal poetry and nostalgia that reflect a romantically feminine experience with humor and heart.
What may be the most evocative piece of the set is Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny Songspiel. The relevance and cynicism of dystopian fears amongst the early industrial and modern ages during the rise of fascism are juxtaposed with some of the eerily similar issues that appear to be repeating themselves in today’s socio-economic and political landscapes, reflecting both an individual’s desire for freedom and escapism from the existential.
The engaging and intimate narratives are enjoyably executed with nonstop but also non-gratuitous multi-media backdrop enhancements during the two-hour production, and elaborate the quick journey of the production as a whole which can easily leave one refreshed, substantially satisfied, and more than willing to go with this new direction of opera.
The remaining limited dates for Gotham’s Baden Baden 1927 at the Gerald Lynch Theater at 524 West 59th Street in NYC are October 26th and 29th with a few tickets still available.