Singeth the Raven “Nevermore”

05/29/2014 12:15 PM |

The Raven, a new vocal work by Toshio Hosokawa, based on the Poe poem, presented by Gotham Chamber Opera

  • Jim Dine

I didn’t even know there would be another piece of music. The main attraction in last night’s program at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater was The Raven, a relatively short new vocal work by Toshio Hosokawa based on the Poe poem, part of the New York Philharmonic’s Biennial celebration (presented by Gotham Chamber Opera). But it was overshadowed by the work that preceded it, Andre Caplet’s nonvocal Conte fantastique: Le Masque de la Mort rouge, also after an Edgar Allan work.


Caplet is best known as Debussy’s orchestrator, but based on this work he’s also an excellent composer: published in 1924, the piece (arranged for string quartet and a mesmerizing harp, played by Sivan Magen) features melodies that are twistedly Romantic—eerie, plaintive and melancholic, at once and at turns. It’s like some implosive admixture of impressionism and expressionism in its wordless narrative, the quiet mystery of Debussy approaching the terrifying atonality of Penderecki but stopping at the aggressive creepiness of Bernard Hermann (albeit stripped of his Hollywood accessibility).

The Raven moved a lot closer to Penderecki, its siren-like strings softly wailing. It was often monomelodic, the poem’s first stanza spoke-sung over dissonant orchestration, a curiously arrhythmic adaptation of such rhythmic verse. The music nailed the poem’s inherent despair, and you could appreciate the challenge of having to orchestrate such an iconic refrain, but each “nevermore” stung in its own way—including the final whispered one. The most interesting aspect, though, was director Luca Veggetti’s accompanying choreography. As an excellent Fredrika Brillembourg sang, a physically similar and identically dressed Alessandra Ferri moved around her, adding a layer of physical desperation in movement. It was an athletic performance for both, the interaction becoming an expression of the Raven, of Lenore—the narrator’s tortured mind made manifest.

This program will be performed again Friday and Saturday evenings. Get more info here.

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