19 September 2014 02:41PM
Whitebox Art Center on Broome Street in New York is currently presenting the work of opera director and Hudson resident R. B. Schlather as part of WhiteboxLab > SoundLounge, an ongoing series of unconventional works, with Tony Guerrero, executive and artistic director, at the helm of this new multifaceted program.
For two weeks, Whitebox’s main exhibition space has served as a laboratory for the rehearsal of George Frideric Handel’s opera seria “Alcina”, an 18th century baroque opera, culminating in two performances on September 20 and 21 at 7pm (a talkback follows the final performance).
SoundLounge provides an unconventional venue for an opera. As a laboratory, all rehearsals, including the General Rehearsal on September 18 at 7pm, and the two final productions are open and free to the general public. The final performances will be enacted live with orchestra, in Italian, utilizing new technologies with projected English subtitles. The libretto, “L’Isola d’Alcina” (1728) is by Riccardo Broschi, based on Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem “Orlando Furioso” set in the time of Charlemagne’s wars against Islam. “Alcina”, a story of love and illusion, premiered during Handel’s remarkable hit season at London’s Covent Garden Theatre in 1735, and is regarded as one of his most inventive and melodic musical scores.
Juan Puntes, Founder of Whitebox, talked recently with R. B. Schlather about the project.
Juan Puntes: R. B., you live in Hudson on Allen Street. One good day you contacted me with the idea of taking opera out of the opera house.
RBS: Yes, I worked at New York City Opera for five years, and when it went bust, questions were raised for me about the status of opera in general, and in New York City in particular: how to get and keep people interested in this art form, and also about the kind of work I wanted to be doing. Did I want to keep working in big opera houses? Not really. I’ve been wanting to do work that specifically addresses these questions. I came to an event at White Box, and I really enjoyed the space. I liked the way people flowed through it. A friend hooked me up with you guys, and we hit it off. I wrote a proposal and was lucky and honored to be chosen to be part of the Fall SoundLounge program.
JP: In fact, you are the first to be selected by Executive and Artistic Director Tony Guerrero and myself to inaugurate Whitebox’s laboratory, SoundLounge. I was particularly attracted to your involvement. I had a big bias since my father was an opera singer in the same company as Pilar Lorengar, in my hometown of Zaragoza. The great Lorengar was renowned for her performance of Donna Elvira in “Don Giovanni” at the Metropolitan Opera. So you touch a nerve, because I have felt strongly that over the years opera has become a kind of lost art, disconnected from the population at large, and especially for people involved in the visual arts. So, after a couple of conversations with you, I said, this looks like material Guerrero and I should be looking at for Whitebox.
RBS: I like what you say about a nerve, because I think that for anybody who really connects with opera, it’s something you can’t move away from, it gets so deep inside you. It gets so under your skin. So I’ve been wanting to create an environment where the process of making an opera, not just the final performance, is fully accessible to the public, where people can come off the street, people who have never been to an opera, and thought they never could, can come in here and see the work involved, and get their own nerves going and their blood flowing listening to this stuff. And it’s so cool here at Whitebox because the intimate space, the resonance, the acoustics are really favorable for opera. To be so up close to great artists, hearing them sing, is amazing, this extraordinary music by Handel—the space showcases the material so well, as an aural experience, a really vivid aural experience.
JP: I see people coming in that I know, like the gallerists next door, who at first are a little reticent, but when they leave you can see that they leave transformed. And they don’t even have to buy a ticket!
RBS: Well, we’re doing it barebones, but still there are twenty-five people involved in making this two-hour performance happen, and you need a lot of support. Thankfully, people make donations.
JP: It’s great that the public, from your end, and from ours, is responding, and we’re getting really full houses. If we’re lucky with some of the new grants we are applying for, we would love to have you return. I personally would like to see some of your other recent work, like Brecht, even though the Baroque delirium of “Alcina” is almost like a Truman Capote thing, with its focus on desire and misguided identities. What a comedy of errors it is, and how relevant still today.
RBS: Totally. Its emotional thrust is almost entirely contemporary. It’s so relatable. I love the idea that all these delirious characters are sort of walking around in a dream world, trying to figure out what the hell’s going on, like all of us in life, wandering around trying to figure it out, trying to process all the relationships we have with each other. Handel just does it so exquisitely. To think that this thing was written in the eighteenth century. There are parts in it that sound completely modern, modernist, and we’re all just reduced to tears most of the time by the sheer beauty, poetry of it.
JP: So that’s what we’ve got going here at Whitebox. From the City of Hudson: R. B. Schlather. I’m completely thrilled. Whitebox laboratory > SoundLounge begins with Handel’s opera “Alcina”, and R. B. Schlather, I think, is very fabulous.
RBS: Fabulous, fabulous. Thank you, Juan.