Aeschylus meets Noh in a poem by Poe

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.
The Raven has music by Toshio Hosokawa, a monodrama for mezzo-soprano and twelve players in one act with text by Edgar Allan Poe as part of Opera Philadelphia’s Festival 022.
 
Scheduled for 90 minutes, The Raven was in two parts. The first part was a fantasy where a cadre of actors entered in quirky costumes inspired by Greek tragedy. The Bacchae by Euripedes comes to mind, as well as The Oresteia by Aeschylus. The Coephori wore slightly different costumes. One wore wings and held fly swatters, while another wore a skirt, and was bare chested. Each of these “Helpers” was named Leonore. They divided the audience into thirds, with each side of the audience being led around the theatre, while the middle third stayed seated.
 
Our center third had a Leonore of fragile voice and vulnerable demeanor. Leonore led us through various participations using poster boards with slogans, and giant inflatable dice used as volleyballs.Conversation occurred between Leonore and members of the group until the other two sections of the audience came barreling down the ramp to the left and rushing down the right side of the house to get onto the stage. In the ensuing melee, our Leonore could have only the third word he spoke intelligible. We heard only … ramp … stairs … ramp … stairs. For us, the ramp was roped off and inaccessible, so those with a handicap had no apparent choice but the steep, narrow stairs. 
 
Once onstage, most seating was occupied. An usher guided you to a corner seat at the edge of the performance area. This seat was one of the few which was inches from the action. The area was littered with thousands of pages of notes and small photographs. A nauseous hanging of many yards of phlegm representing hundreds of woven placentas sagged overhead. The orchestra was at the far end of the space. Our end had a TV monitor showing the conductor.
 
The opera now began. The text was Poe’s The Raven, delivered in often shrieking declamation, while a spinning, masked dancer represented the Raven. Noh theatrical movement and gesture were apparent throughout. Many in the audience may have recalled elements from the works of Kei Takei, Meredith Monk, and Eiko and Koma. For those of us in the first row, the running, spinning, and screaming happened within arm’s-length of our person. Undoubtedly, it was meant to be disquieting and destabilizing. It succeeded.
 
The action onstage pointed to the fact that the Narrator was grieving someone named Leonore, and either by magic or hallucination, he saw a raven perched upon his bust of Athena. Much was made of his search for Balm in Gilead, which today can be purchased as tree buds online.The piece ended after a wrestling encounter between Narrator and Raven, with Raven stalking away and Narrator slumped upon the floor, as the Chorus/Corephori pointed and/or gestured artfully.
 
The entire run of The Raven is virtually sold out. 
 
The next opera will be Rossini’s Otello, September 23, 25th, 30th, and October 2, conducted by Corrado Rovaris and featuring the beautiful Lawrence Brownlee as Rodrigo. For more information about other offerings in Festival O, visit www.operaphila.org .

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