A “Sound” Collaboration: INTERVALS by Allora & Calzadilla

Picture this: A long hallway, brightly lit in the Perelman Building of the Philadelphia Art Museum.  Spectators and visitors stood around talking. All of a sudden a capella sound filled the hall. The crowd parted as the “Crossing” singers walked down the hall, singing perfectly in tune. This was not easy music and there was no accompaniment or referent. There were silences and much moving around–this was not your typical chorus performance! There was no conductor or chorusmaster (Donald Nally is the musical director of the group but he was not in the performance) to keep the beat or wave a baton for them to follow. One “sees” the intervals as the group moves in relation to the lines that they sing. It is a representation in time and space using their bodies and their voices. The sound was glorious and for sure, this rendition of Christopher Rountree’s In the Midst of Things is a highlight of the exhibition called “Intervals.”

AC IMAGE 3 Raptor's Rapture

Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla are both based in Puerto Rio, although Calzadilla is originally from Cuba and Allora is a Philadelphia native. Intervals encompasses the different relationships between time, space, music, visual art and sound. It is a multimedia exhibit that includes musical performances by The Crossing and other groups, installations that combine video, sound, performance and visual arts.

Another intriguing installation in Intervals is “The Great Silence.” This includes videos of parrots in Puerto Rico and images of the the radio telescope in Esperanza, Puerto Rico. This installation is at the The Fabric Workshop and Museum on the second floor and lasts for 16:22 minutes. During this experience, there is text on another screen which imagines that conversation that this endangered species of parrots might have. Ted Chiang, a science fiction author, contributed the dialogue. From The Great Silence subtitles: “Humans have lived alongside parrots for thousands of years, and only recently have they considered the possibility that we might be intelligent. ”

The exhibition INTERVALS, is a collaboration  headed by the performance artists, Allora & Calzadilla. Other partners in this series include: The Crossing, Relâche, David Lang, Ted Chiang, Christopher Rountree, The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fabric Workshop and Museum. The official opening was on Friday December 12, and the exhibition will continue until April 5, 2015. The calendar is extensive with the films, installations, visual art and performances. For more information: phiilamuseum.org

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El gato con botas: An Adorable Production by Gotham Chamber Opera

Music, puppets, rabbits, fish, a lion, a monster and a super clever cat–all the ingredients for a charming and adorable show. El gato con botas by Catalán composer, Xavier Montsalvatge, was presented in Spanish on December 11 at 7:00 pm by Gotham Chamber Opera in New York City at the Museo del Barrio. This was a revival of their premiere in 2010. I don’t know how I missed that premiere, but I’m glad that I was able to catch the revival. It was a very delightful evening.

By far, the puppets upstaged all the human characters and the music, and the inanimate brought to life,  stole the show. Overall the singing of the 60 minute opera was well done. Andrea Carroll, the princess, displayed beautiful lush toned singing, perfectly appropriate for her role. Kevin Burdette, thoroughly embodied the ogre character, through his precise singing and parallel movements and expressions with the giant puppet.  As the cat, Karin Mushegain, delivered with gusto. In general I did not find the Spanish lyrics very idiomatic–I had to refer to the subtitles (and I am a fluent speaker of Spanish).  I could not tell if that was due to the way the lyrics were set or the singers familiarity with the language as everything was pronounced correctly.

Since the musical score includes some instrumental interludes, there were opportunities for stage business and dances among the puppets. The puppetry was nothing short of spectacular. The skill and preparation of those artistis working the strings was evident. The only weakness, from my vantage point (right orchestra seat) was that the cat singer, was too visible and upstage the cat puppet. It was difficult to concentrate on the cat when she was singing. I wonder if having the singers in the pit might have been less distracting.

Gotham Chamber Opera and the entire cast and production crew deserve kudos for this production. There were many partners involved in making it happen, from the Guggenheim Works in Progress, Museo del Barrio, Tectonic Theater Project and all of the generous patrons. El gato con botas is an obscure opera by an relatively unknown composer (really only familiar to those that study Spanish music). The opera is short and sweet and the Gotham Chamber Opera production is light and fun!