Selfie with audience by Figaro singer Jose Adan Perez
This past week I saw a comic opera from 1816, a very contemporary dance performance and Iñárritu’s terrific movie, Birdman. Each was so different in form and language. Each one of those performances left me thrilled in its own emotionally intense fashion. This reminds me not only that there are many diverse instruments and languages we can use to get our own messages across – but also that when I expose myself to several of these creative languages my brain is stimulated far more than when it is immersed in just one of these forms. So keep changing it up and you will be rewarded!
The Barber of Seville – an 1816 comic opera full of great tunes (you know Figaro’s aria from Bugs Bunny!) – was put on by a scrappy and brilliant startup called LoftOpera. Rossini’s music was faithfully and expertly performed by a 20 piece orchestra and a more-than-talented cast of young professional singers in the Green Building on the banks of Brooklyn’s scenic and deeply polluted Gowanus Canal.
Unlike so many preserved-in-amber, stand-and-sing opera stagings, Laine Rettmer’s hilarious and totally successful direction firmly placed the singer-protagonists in a real world where life does not stop to listen to them spouting their arias. Which is really and wonderfully what LoftOpera have done to the form – placing it squarely in a place that prevents new audiences from rolling their eyes at operatic self-importance. To date 70% of their audiences have been first-time opera goers which is truly exciting to a long-time opera lover such as myself. This performance had the crowd hooting and chortling; with the fourth wall broken along the catwalk stage, the audience played Jenga with the cast. And on the first night, when the evil Dr Bartolo ultimately got his come-uppance – his hapless image was live-tweeted by Figaro from the stage.
The Batsheva company dance piece, staged at BAM and titled Sadeh21, was something completely different. Pure dance with 16 outstanding dancers – visually interchangeable with each other, sometimes deliberately confusing the sexes – but each one powerful and deep. No text and no explicit story – just the exquisite beauty of the movement and physical interactions, and the design of the figures on the bare stage. The choreographer Ohad Naharin has apparently invented his own dance language called Gala. Clearly these performers know how it works, but as for me words fail me – as they should. One person described it as “insanely moving.” This was a visual and visceral experience – it moved me too in ways that words can’t explain. So I won’t go on any more about it.
Birdman is very much about story and emotions. The characters put them into words in ways that make it easy for us to apply to our own lives and loves. And like our lives in which there are no cuts, this movie is constructed as a “single take.” Each character is strongly defined – unlike in the dance piece – and we can’t help but analyze them individually and identify with one or other of them. There was the challenge of authenticity (nothing real ever happens to the Ed Norton character, he tells us, except on the stage) and the surprising emotional rock of the ironic Sam (a genius performance from Emma Stone). Michael Keaton is alternately infuriating and heartbreaking as the former action hero star trying to figure out whether he even exists now he’s no longer Birdman (he has turned down Birdman 4 and has lost his way).
After Keaton’s self-proclaimed nemesis, (Lindsay Duncan’s Tabitha, all-powerful New York Times critic) has been informed in no uncertain terms that critics like her don’t feel anything, put nothing on the line; they just put labels on things and face no consequences – well how can I go on with this post. But hey – here are some labels anyway: this film is about who we are – about talent and mediocrity, about parenthood and relationships, about existence and fantasy and about truth and dare. It’s even about the power of trending on Twitter. (Two Twitter mentions in this one little post. So it goes.)
So: three very different performances using very different instruments and creative languages – all tremendously effective at communicating. No one could do what the others did. Each was perfectly chosen and perfectly executed. Maybe one lesson is that whatever instrument happens to be yours you can use it to enormous effect.
Also – do please keep on supporting the people who put themselves on the line. Your brain will thank you. And don’t just restrict yourself to one genre – be always exploring new ones – you will be amazed what you will discover.
Anyway here is Emma Stone now…