De Materie

I smelled the sheep before I saw them: there was the distinct aroma of barn. (I’m from the Midwest, mind you!) It was last Wednesday evening, and I was entranced by the zeppelin making lazy circles in the cavernous space that is the Wade Thompson Drill Hall at the Park Avenue Armory. Soon, I heard the muffled clatter of hooves on the floor, and 100 sheep from the Pennsylvania countryside emerged into a huddle in the murky indoor twilight. Soft bleating. More shuffles. The group reforms, undulates — the solid fluffy sheep bodies always huddled, always moving, always bunched close together. Have you ever watched a group of sheep? Really watched them? It is mesmerizing, and so was the entire production of Heiner Goebbels’ surreal opera, De Materie. This dream-like piece on the nature of how spirit relates to matter was set to the compelling music of composer, Louis Andriessen, and performed by the fabulous International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). Gorgeous vocals by Chorwerk Ruhr, and unearthly solos by tenor, Pascal Charbonneau (I saw him in David et Jonathas at BAM in 2013), and soprano, Evgeniya Sotnikova were a highlight. The dance, movement, staging and set were stunning. A shifting tableau of sight and sound was created. It was immersive. I didn’t want it to end. Years ago, I had the pleasure of experiencing Andriessen’s music at the Lincoln Center Festival 2000 in Peter Greenaway’s opera, Writing to Vermeer (a piece I’d love to experience again.) I don’t make it to the Armory as often as I would like, but when I do, it is quite a thrill. The newly refurbished Veterans Room is opulent. Their amazingly enormous space is conducive to exciting programming: Trisha Brown’s 2012 Astral Converted, and the 2013 productions of both Stockhausen’s Oktophonie and Robert Wilson’s The Life and Death of Marina Abromović were among my most memorable performance experiences there.

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