- 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.
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.
If the production of La hija de Rappaccini
thrived off of its isolation from the surrounding city, Street Scene
did the opposite. The Pulitzer Prize-winning 1929 play by Elmer Rice was performed outside two Park Slope apartment buildings
on Fifth Street this past Saturday: on the stoops, from the first-floor windows and the windows of the apartments above. And it was at its best when forced to interact with the real street: skateboarding teens, a handtruck-wheeling letter carrier, residents of the buildings who walked out in the middle of a scene. It gave it an unscriptable energy, something spontaneous and real, blurring the lines of where the fiction begins and thus deepening the emotional impact of its heroes' lovesicknesses. Were it in contention today, I might not petition the Pulitzer committee to award this play its honor, but no production could ever feel truer to its spirit than the one that day in Brooklyn.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart