At the Aix Festival, Premieres in Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness doesn’t come instantly. Aristotle argued that a good day does not make anyone happy any more than a swallow makes spring. It will take at least a lifetime.

At France’s Aix-en-Provence Festival, two new allegorical works by George Benjamin and Martin Crimp test these measures—days, lifetimes, even generations—in the pursuit of happiness. increase. “Imagine a day like this” Philip Venables and Ted Huffman “The Bassoon and His Companions During the Revolution”

But in either case, there is no guarantee that over time, that elusive goal will be achieved.

Benjamin and Crimp’s fourth opera, The Picture, is a tense one-act piece of masterful virtuosity whose purpose is to find the embodiment of happiness. The main character, a woman who has lost her young son, is told that if he unbuttons the shirt sleeve of a happy person, the child will come back to life. She has time until night and has nothing but a paper listing who to look for.

Crimp’s writing is characteristically mysterious and bizarre, detached from reality and sprinkled with the mundane of everyday life, and his first collaboration with Benjamin, the 2006 retelling of The Pied Piper’s Legend. It’s kind of a return to the ‘Into the Little Hill’ aesthetic. . (They later produced the well-known psychosexual thriller Written on Skin and a similar sequel, A Lesson in Violence.) What’s happening is that Crimp quotes a folktale. Alexander RomanceChristianity and Buddhism for a similar synthesis with Wagner’s predatory approach to mythology.

The woman encounters some archetypal characters during her journey, reminiscent of interplanetary Little Prince and Alice in Wonderland. There was a pair of lovers, once a craftsman, a composer and a collector. In a series of scenes that are subtly linked in Benjamin’s score but act as separate set pieces, these people seem happy but fall apart at the slightest oversight or self-disclosure. Only Zabel, who looks like a mirror image of a woman, has the wisdom to offer her something more satisfying and salvation.

Daniel Jeanneteau and Marie-Christine Souma’s frank and intimate production at the Jeu de Paume theater, where each scene emerges fluidly from the three walls surrounding the stage. Marie La Rocca’s understated costumes set the tone for characters with multiple roles played by a small cast. Elegant countertenor Cameron Shahbaji plays the other lover, weaving dark, sensual lines and assisting the composer. Baritone John Brancy appears as a craftsman and collector.

Blanchey is given some of Benjamin’s most adventurous vocal writing on this song, and embarks on it with impressive skill. It’s a seamless passaggio between rich, resonant register depth and a weightless, dreamy falsetto about three and a half octaves from the low B-flat. to soprano E.

Special attention also seems to be given to soprano singer Anna Prohaska as Zabel, her sympathetic stage presence giving her a solid yet human touch to Benjamin’s music, and vice versa. is also the same. In Zabel’s scene, what is described in the script as her garden is rendered in video projection by artist Hisham Verada, a barren aquarium enchantingly lush with surreal and alien life forms. The threatening appearance of blooming is projected.

As a woman, mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa is determined and heartbroken, her resoluteness bewildered by tense vibrato and wide-eyed concern. Through her, Benjamin, who conducted the excellent players of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in her pit, also tied the score for the episode. The sound of her reading the paper is accompanied by muted trumpet and trombone motifs. Tubular bells, quietly embedded at the climax of each scene, signal that the clock is ticking and time is up.

But her race against time is ultimately less important than her epiphany encounter with Zabel. Whether it will lead to happiness cannot be said overnight, it is as vague as Benjamin’s music itself, and despite its perfect composition, it is clearly expressive or well resolved. We never do.

Venables and Huffman’s show The Fagots and Their Friends Between Revolutions at Pavillon Noir is also ambivalent. An adaptation of Larry Mitchell’s 1977 cult classic novel of the same name for Music His Theater, this work, illustrated by Ned Asta, depicts a mythical and utopian counter-patriarchy called “The Men”. It rewrites queer history in words. (Among the work’s co-commissioners is New York’s NYU Skirball, which is set to tour next year.) Whereas the ’70s fable ends in uncertainty, Venables and Huffman tell the story. Going further, it introduces a cautionary tale of assimilation and presents a vision. Because it’s a post-revolutionary life that Mitchell said would “swallow us all.”

The last collaboration between composer Venables and writer-director Huffman was the 2019 opera Dennis and Katya, a chamber piece based on the true story of two Russian teenagers who ran away from home a few years ago. He hid in a cabin and died in a shootout with police. At just over an hour long, his work is smoothly layered and ethically complex, fundamentally about how stories are formed and told.

and how they are implemented. “Dennis and Katya” existed in a theatrical space occupied by two singers and his four cellists, but had no hierarchy or operatic tradition, and was a projection of the correspondence between Venables and Huffman. It was also decorated. It’s a concept the creators have pushed even further with their new show, an amazing feat of controlled chaos in which a 15-person ensemble does it all singing, talking, dancing and playing instruments.

Venables’ score is a maddening stylistic fantasy that incorporates elements of folk, jazzy phrasal changes and baroque instrumentation. He exercises the same self-control as Benjamin, and is blatantly comedic only when he is at his most sexually aroused. The episodes near the beginning tell of the “ritual” of cruising, building towards a climax of “ecstatic fellowship” and interaction. He spoke something definite that could not be repeated here, and soon the music was quieted by the sound of a piano. Richard Strauss in “Der Rosenkavalier” or “Domestic Sinfonia” would be proud.

No artist has a clear role throughout the show, so none of them can be easily explained. This approach to theater production, in which each performer is integral to the whole, is particularly suited to the spirit of Mitchell’s book and its roots in the gay and lesbian community of upstate New York, Lavender Hill. increase.

However, some performers have been given a slightly brighter spotlight. An agile instrumentalist, Ishani’s Peripannayagam musical direction brings the group together at key moments. Her two of the narrators naturally stand out. Yandas, the dynamo of speech and dance, and Kit Greene, charismatic, authoritative, and downright comedic. Venable’s score showcases the vocal beauty of Deepa Johnny and Katherine Goforth with utmost patience, but also reveals a glimpse of Colin Shaye’s gifted countertenor (their keyboards). not to mention talent).

That the performers are so represented as a group of artists sharing rather than embodying Mitchell’s fables and constantly breaking through the fourth wall is another example of the book’s outdated peak hippie politics. Helps avoid the part. Venables and Huffman treat the non-male other as a universal concept that applies very broadly to all who are oppressed. But the assimilation-warning passage “Looking like a man” has a narrower focus. Blending in there is clearly white, gay, and bourgeois luxury. It was no surprise that Pete Buttigieg was the first openly queer person to ever have a chance at the presidency of the United States.

But that contradiction, that wrinkle of dramaturgy in an appropriately wrinkled show, is at the core of queerness as an unfinished project: still searching for some kind of post-emancipation happiness, if not Mitchell’s utopia. It is a project that It takes time.

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