Brian Cummings (Him) and Elizabeth Baber (Her), Ground, American Opera Theater (Ignoti Dei Opera), 2006, photo by Greg McLeskey
Similar in nature to Monteverdi’s formally staged Madrigaux at last summer’s Aix-en-Provence Festival, AOT’s production was developed as an experiment by Timothy Nelson (direction and costume design) and Kel Millionie (scenography and projections design). Ground indeed fulfilled its aim of “defying categorization” by portraying a “simple, universal story free of plot and character details through music.” However, the accessible "combination of performance art, recital, cabaret, and dance" was undermined by a few issues.
Robert Battey, American Opera Theater (Washington Post, September 10)
The singers assumed that because the Gonda Theatre is an intimate performance space, singing with full technique was not required. This led to intonation issues, a lack of presence in the room, and overly relaxed vowels. Runs and melismatic material were often under-supported and lacking sufficient legato.
Memorable moments included an enchanting pppp moment by the theorbo; a very simple pizzicato ground-bass theme by the gamba of two ascending neighbor notes with variations on the theorbo; and the very cool Ciacona a 2 by Tarquinio Merula (1595-1665), where the countertenor sang (or improvised) the top instrumental line on a wordless “dah” sound. In the end, specific symbolism at different points in the life cycle could be deciphered in a variety of personalized ways. Friendly fellow blogger Akimon Azuki and I interpreted parts of the journey in different ways. For example, did the baby die? Did the suffering “Her” wearing a baseball hat near the end symbolize cancer and the side-effects of chemotherapy? The potential for AOT’s three-year residency is immense.
American Opera Theater's remaining productions this season include an intriguing new staging (yes, staging) of Handel's Messiah (at Georgetown, December 7 to 9) and a revival of Charpentier's David et Jonathas (May 2 to 4).