Mark Morris has proven how deft he is with opera, particularly when it includes his wonderful dancers. His productions of Romeo & Juliet: On Motifs of Shakespeare, Orfeo ed Euridice, Platée, King Arthur—and the sublime L’Allegro ed il Penseroso ed il Moderato and Dido and Aeneas for his own company—all integrated his astute sensitivity with music and his playful, earthbound choreography.
Now he has taken a bit of a departure in directing Gotham Chamber Opera’s production of Joseph Haydn’s L’Isola Disabitata (The Deserted Island), with a libretto by Metastasio, in five performances at John Jay College from Feb 18- 28. There will be no dancers or chorus, just four soloists and an orchestra: sopranos Takesha Meshé Kizart and Valerie Ogbonnaya, tenor Vale Rideout, and bass-baritone Tom Corbeil. Neal Goren, artistic director of Gotham Chamber Opera, will conduct. The plot revolves around shipwrecked Costanza raising infant Silvia to fear men, and then a man appears.
Gotham Chamber Opera is making a reputation as an innovator in the form. In recent seasons, it has employed the talent of choreographers David Parsons and Karole Armitage. Parsons’ production of Astor Piazzolla’s Maria de Buenos Aires was stylish and haunting, and the cast interacted cleverly with the inventive sets, including a mountain of chairs and some strategically placed scrims. Armitage directed and choreographed Ariadne Unhinged, a song cycle with music by Monteverdi, Haydn, and Schoenberg. Although filled with moments of visual poetry performed by Armitage’s excellent dancers, it was somewhat hindered by featuring just one singer. (See Armitage Gone!’s Ligeti Essays.)
Predictably, Morris has done well with singers who have a knack for movement, and an adventuresome streak doesn’t hurt. (Witness Heidi Grant Murphy as Amor in Orfeo, suspended high above the stage while singing her aria.) As a modern choreographer, Morris has a knack for problem-solving. This balances the idealistic, perfectionist side that makes pretty much everything he does special. It will be interesting to see how far he pushes these singers beyond their comfort zones, as varied as they may be.
Photo of Tom Corbeil and Takesha Meshé Kizart in L’Isola Disabitata by Richard Termine