Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Fioretti in Musica - New Opera at La MaMa ETC. NYC

From a variety of sources:

Pioneers go East Company presents
I Fioretti in Musica - Opera in Danza
September 30th -October 17th 2010
Ellen Stewart Theater- La MaMa ETC
74/A East 4th Street, NYC Box Office: 212-475-7710

Brand new Italian opera based on a 14th century story and set in modern day New York - that's the bare outlines of what you can expect at the upcoming production of I Fioretti in Musica - Opera in Danza. It's presented by Pioneers go East Company, or La Compagnia Teatrale I Pionieri dell'Est. Founded in 2005, they're dedicated to producing Italian theatre and opera in America, and operate in residence at La Mama ETC.

Musically, I'd describe the piece as showing its 14th century inspiration in textured, contrapuntal works with soaring, ethereal melodies and harmonies, juxtaposed against an electronica score that uses live voice processing and music inspired by the noises of New York's streets. It's staged as a Medieval era madrigal comedy, with five singers on one side of the stage, and 12 dancer-puppeteers who act out the story on the other side of the stage. Running 75 minutes, the production includes live electronic music, with a mezzo-soprano as St. Francis, a countertenor, a tenor and two baritones.

You can check out audio samples from their latest rehearsals here at composer Sasha Zamler-Carhart's website.

The libretto is based on a 14th century book of poems in vulgar Italian called I Fioretti - Little Flowers - The miracles of Saint Francis of Assisi. It looks to bring the teachings of the good Saint - who renounced the materialism and an easy life as the young, rich son of a merchant to serve humanity and nature in poverty - to a contemporary context. Saint Francis saw the natural world as a manifestation of God, and treated all living things as his brothers and sisters. It's a lovely and powerful message for today's world, to be sure.

The team behind the production comes with some impressive credentials, including:
  • Gian Marco Lo Forte (libretto, concept & direction, set design) - artist-in-residence at La MaMa where he founded Pioneers Go East Co. He comes from a decade long background in set design in Italy and NYC, with notable mentions in the New York Times and others.
  • Sasha Zamler-Carhart, a French composer (vocal score) based in The Netherlands. His work often combines Western classical music with folk traditions from Europe and African, and he's done field work in ethnomusicology in various African countries. He currently teaches medieval music and Latin at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague.
  • Ryan Carter, (composer - electronic music), whose work has been praised by the New York Times, and performed throughout Europe and North America by ensembles that include the Cleveland Chamber Symphony and the Nieuw Ensemble, with commissions from Carnegie Hall, Present Music, and the Calder Quartet, (among others). Awards include the Lee Ettelson Award, the Aaron Copland Award, and ASCAPlus Awards.
  • Philip Montana (choreographer), who has danced for Tatiana Bagonova, Michael Foley and Shapiro & Smith Dance. He was also a company member of the world renowned Shen Wei Dance Arts, and his pieces have been widely performed in NYC.
The piece also features projections, paintings and drawings by Mark Tambella, and puppets and masks designed by Jane Catherine Shaw & Abby Felder and fashioned from garbage and recycled materials. Costume designs by Gabriel Berry and Angela Wendt.

Told in four acts as independent vignettes, St. Francis is cast as a homeless person in New York in a gritty urban staging that includes trash bags and shopping carts, and bird puppets made of recycled garbage. The scenes cover Francis's conversion to a life of poverty, St. Francis preaching to the birds, the Saint saving the wolf of Gubbio from being killed by townsfolk, and in the final act, sees an older St. Francis dishing up hospitality to three thieves.

It sounds like a pretty interesting take on a story that's worth retelling.

Second image: Concept Gian Marco LoForte / Painting: Mark Tambella/ Flower Design Cathy Shaw & Abby Felder/ Emanuele Nigro as Francis