Last summer in Prospect Park, at Celebrate Brooklyn, I just happened to sit next to the parents of one of the members of the Brooklyn Youth Chorus. We were all there to experience composer Paola Prestini’s ambitious virtual reality opera, The Hubble Cantata, and the chorus was part of the performance. The parents happened to mention to me that their daughter was going to be singing in another Prestini production — called Aging Magician — off-broadway at The New Victory Theater in 2017. I immediately made note of it. Paola Prestini is one of my favorite contemporary composers, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus is one of the best choruses in New York City.
Fast forward to last Sunday evening. I eagerly take my seat. The music begins. After a few astonished moments, the young tween gal to my left complains to her father: “This isn’t what it looked like it was going to be.” He looks like he agrees with her. It is not long before half of the balcony is squirming in their seats, imploring their parents: “When is this gonna be done?” Truly, during the whole rest of the evening, I hear random children blurting such comments as: “Look, Pappa. They are just sitting there. Why are they staring at us?” or ” The album [program] doesn’t have any pictures!” I hear parents repeatedly shushing their bored, fidgety charges. Heck, some of the parents seem bored and fidgety, too!
I took it in stride. I was in a theater dedicated to presenting challenging work to young New York audiences, after all. And many of the families in the theater were tourists, who probably didn’t really have much of a clue about what it was they were here to see. This work must have really been difficult for many of them to grasp — new and unusual music is not for everyone. For me, however, it was masterful on every level. The musical compositions were phenomenal, and the Attacca Quartet and Brooklyn Children’s Chorus did it full justice. I could understand every word the choir sang — no small task to accomplish! The virtuosity of the young chorus members humbles me. (I sing in a community chorus and we can only strive to emulate their precision and musicianship.)
Julian Crouch’s set design was brilliant (I had seen his work for Satyagraha at the Metropolitan Opera.) Rinde Eckert’s libretto and performance was, well, magical! I was moved and enchanted by this poignant tale of the illusions of time (both linear and circular) and life/death — indeed, it was nearly Buddhist in the depth and sophistication of its themes. I would imagine there were children in the audience who walked away profoundly affected, as I was. For them, it could even have been world-changing. I imagine many more simply could not understand it. It is probably best performed in a space more suited to new and contemporary music, but I admire The New Victory Theater for presenting it. Kudos to Beth Morrison Projects, and VisionIntoArt / National Sawdust for producing this incredible work of musical theater. It was a thrill to experience it.