This new opera collaboration by jazz phenoms Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding is set up to be a fascinating fusion of jazz and classical music with a stage-set designed by paradigm shifting architect Frank Ghery; I’m excited. Now if we can only get to Boston to see it.
The plane at La Guardia presently is swaying on us like a seasick drunkard.
I weigh the pros and cons of vomiting and close my book of Euripides who’s letters won’t remain on the page. The take off makes the swaying worse and with little else to do I put headphones on, scroll to Mozart’s K 626, grip the seat-rest, and resign myself to the will of the Gods. We’re a butterfly on a storm the entire way and land best as I can describe as sideways.
The hotel is a plush paradise of respite that showcases a view of Boston’s capital. Like portents from Delphi though, its golden dome is beset by deep purple storm clouds. Despite the doom of weather and against my better judgement, this is a new city and I have a poison ivy itch to explore it. Chaltin reaches out for the famous green umbrella as I grab her hand and head for the door – what’s a little weather?
My shoes strain for the vocabulary to describe our walk from subway to museum:
Cats and Dogs?
A little weather indeed. We now squish and squeak thru the Institute of Contemporary Art like a couple of ducks. Uncomfortable for sure but by multidimensional turns the museum is pretty cool and the Kusama infinity room is a sure-fire instagram favorite and worth the soggy socks.
For a contemporary art museum there are a surprising amount of references to classical myths to be found that reminds me of the Euripides I put aside on the plane. I’m re-excited for tonights opera .
What is it about these Greek Myths that not only survive but thrive in the twenty-first century?
We exit into winds courtesy of Zephyrus. One good gust murders the green umbrella of past opera adventures and we leave it to stick out of a trashcan like a bent spider. Now a movie cliche’ with newspapers over our heads we hop and jump over puddles the width of the river Styx back to the train.
The Greeks like me and Chaltin are no strangers to the drama of storm and sea, and like them it takes us a lot of hot cocoa and sheepskin to dry out before the evenings opera.
The poet Euripides wrote “Iphigenia” chock full with themes of loyalty and self-sacrifice. It was penned in 408 B.C. Tonight the director walks on stage before the show to punctuate this sentiment of ‘we’re in it together.’ He asks us to celebrate with him that this is the first opera to be performed since the covid pandemic began, and to remind us
– To keep your masks on.
The target of Iphigenia is to challenge the male point of view in Western theater, to flip the script in favor of Iphigenia.* In the original myth the title daughter of Agamemnon is sacrificed to the gods to free his ships from storm to fight the Trojans (interestingly the flashpoint for another opera, Elektra). Iphiginea’s lack of agency, her inability to choose her own path is what this opera is trying to rectify for this classical heroine.
Of the three creators coming together, Wayne Shorter succeeds in writing a score that had complexity and forward movement and tonal shifts that kept me interested. Frank Ghery’s set consisted of wire mesh cloud sculptures that ended up just a backdrop that didn’t really integrate or relate to the rest of the staging. Esperanza’s voice: ethereal skat-coloratura could crash the ships of Odysseus.
The opera has some truly shining moments of melody and fun but I wish it would have pushed its shoulder a little stronger into subverting the original myth. It all felt a little safe and frankly I left thinking that she may have had more agency in the original story rescuing her brother and escaping to the island of Tauris.
Not my favorite opera but still a fun night out in a new city.
The show may be over but myth can still be found under every lager in Boston. We explore the haunts of Paul Revere and the characters from Cheers now that the rains have ended. We skip from cemetery to the river over dry cobblestones.
Is that Norm waving a glowing lantern to warn Sam the British have come to abduct Diane?
On our final morning we visit the Tatte Bakery & Cafe’ for a cappuccino and delicious shakshuka before a final visit to The Gardner Museum and then our flight.
We have taken on the herculean task of seeing 101 opera’s and for #65 we battled Poseidon’s storm and Zephourus’ winds striving toward our goal. Onboard a modern Pegasus for the return flight our pilot comes on to say,” buckle up, we’re expecting rough turbulence ahead.” Bolstered by Iphigenia’s confidence I play Handel’s Messiah on my headphones and look defiantly out the window.
Bring it on!
*The playbill lays out the goal of Iphigenia to subvert the original story “[She] was born to be sacrificed – or so the Greek myth would have us believe. But what if she contests her fate? What if the winds don’t blow and the sails hang limp in the sea air? Staring down the history of opera, Iphigenia makes some demands on its future: no more tragic women singing through suicide and going mad in perfect pitch and no more spectacles of women dead and dying”
Notes on the production:
Iphigenia………………………………………… Esperanza Spalding
Conductor………………………………………. Clark Rundell
Set Design……………………………………… Frank Ghery