Professional quality macabre fun.
Before it ever became the ear worm of Frozen 2, a pair of Brigham Young University business professors, Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer, coined the phrase “into the unknown.” Their theory described how businesses must continually reinvent or reinvigorate their products in order to stay relevant and profitable.
Perhaps few other markets are feeling this as much as the opera community. They are engaged in a battle against reputations ranging from unapproachable stodgy elitism to long-winded productions. These unfortunate stereotypes ignore how much these performing artists are doing to modernize the genre.
The mark of an excellent opera singer is their capacity to sing in any style, form, language, and cadence. Thus many formally-trained opera singers succeed in other genres (Katy Perry is one of many classically-trained examples).
Into the unknown would also describe my experience approaching the Opera Philadelphia performance of “The Raven.”
The pre-show instructions informed us that, “Before taking your seat on the stage of the Miller Theater for The Raven, journey through Poe’s verse as you travel through the theater with a performer as your guide. A collaboration between director Aria Umezawa and the Philadelphia-based Obvious Agency, this interactive discovery of grief, love, and the afterlife will transform how you encounter Hosokawa’s music.”
When we arrived, we had to determine if we wanted to take stairs and verbally or physically interact with the performers for the first half of the presentation. We went for the whole experience.
We then proceeded up four floors to the highest balcony where we awaited our actor, having no idea what to expect. When our “Lenore” arrived, he took us through an at times comedic, tragic, silly, and educational exploration of Poe’s poem. In high end opera performances I have previously attended, such interactions and cultural appreciation was often exclusively reserved for the members only crowd. The Opera Philadelphia found a way to deepen my appreciation for the coming musical portion of the performance, and my love for the poem itself while entertaining me in a small group where the actor intentionally breaks the fourth wall to great effect.
By the time we were in our seats on the stage with the orchestra and performers for the second half of the 90 minute experience, we were ready for the mix of modern dance, poetic interpretation, and tonally perfect singing.
Without taking anything away from the quality performance in front of our eyes, the pit orchestra, seated just to our side on the stage, shone the brightest. The musical gymnastics captured everything my mind imagines that Poe would seek for his audience to experience while reading the poem. The flutist amazed us with his capacity to emit unearthly, haunting sounds from from his ever switching set of instruments.
When the performance ended and the aplaude died down, we looked at each other and simply said “That was fun.” The Opera Philadelphia provided us the perfect emotional transition to my favorite season and we are thoroughly ready for more haunting delights.
The reality of the modern opera experience is nothing like that of the past. Look up the local programming like that in Philidelphia, and prepare to be entertained. Be aware, these performances will be appreciated primarily by those over the age of 16, due to the symbolic content and pacing of the presentation.
Music by Toshio Hosokawa
Libretto by Edgar Allan Poe
Part of Festival O22
Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting poem inspires a two-part evening of immersive theater, the centerpiece of which is Toshio Hosokawa’s The Raven. The classic elegy transforms into a chilling monodrama for mezzo-soprano (Kristen Choi, Rigoletto 2022) and chamber orchestra, led by conductor Eiki Isomura, inspired by the supernatural elements of Noh theater.
Before taking your seat on the stage of the Miller Theater for The Raven, journey through Poe’s verse as you travel through the theater with a performer as your guide. A collaboration between director Aria Umezawa and the Philadelphia-based Obvious Agency, this interactive discovery of grief, love, and the afterlife will transform how you encounter Hosokawa’s music.
To learn more about The Raven and other upcoming events, visit them online.
*we were invited to see the performance to facilitate a feature, all opinions are our own*