Opera in the Garden, Theater on the Street

06/25/2013 12:49 PM |

La Hija de Rappaccini Brooklyn Botanic Garden Gotham Chamber Opera
  • Elizabeth Peters, Courtesy BBG

Outside the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s schmancy new visitors center yesterday evening, a shirtless man shouted at a seemingly oblivious couple who were on their way inside: she was a bitch, and her man was a pussy. Inside the garden, the mood was decidedly more tranquil, though, as hundreds wined and picnicked on the Cherry Esplanade. With Gotham Chamber Opera, the garden had arranged an alfresco performance of Daniel Catan’s 1988 opera La hija de Rappaccini, which was beset early on with technical difficulties: the power kept cutting out, taking away not only the supertitles but the amplification of the small orchestra (two pianos, timpani, percussion, and a harp played by Catan’s widow) and the singers. They stopped the show to fix it, but eventually just soldiered on; the power came back eventually. It didn’t really matter either way; there was actually something sweeter about the musicians fighting for sonic space with chirping birds.

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The opera was cleverly chosen, not just because of GCO’s relationship with and admiration for Catan but also because of its subject matter: it’s about a rogue gardener and 16th-century medicine man, and the hapless fellow who falls in love with his poison daughter. (She’s literally poisonous, which is one way to keep lecherous men away from your precious daughter. As I walked out of the garden, I heard a girl singing, “that girl is poiii-zunnnnn.”) Something about it seemed subversive to me: the garden is portrayed as a prison, plants as poison. But by the end the characters decide it’s not plants that are poisonous but words—people, that is, not nature. I don’t know, though: the music I liked, the mosquitoes not as much.