Promises Kept


Moses and Bitia, from Yoav Gal’s Mosheh

Yoav Gal’s Mosheh (see here for more), is worth seeing, more effective in performance than on recording, as I expected, but also far better thought, made and produced than I had been expecting.

Using video on stage, even in opera, is nothing new: Alban Berg’s Lulu, from the 1920s, calls for a film shown in the middle of the work to advance the plot. It’s also an effective way for small budget companies and productions, working on small stages, to fill in the blanks that a place like the Metropolitan Opera can stuff to the gills – and the Met themselves use video more and more, competently and even effectively. What makes Mosheh different is how Gal has conceived it as incorporating video in a fundamental way, as part of the nature of the piece. The projections create stage settings, but they also express ideas and events, work as part of the narrative and in some ways even interact with the performers.

The actual images succeed in varying degrees, from a serviceable setting of Egyptian pillars covered with Brooklyn style graffiti, to a completely enthralling opening, with video of Moses being cast off onto the river eliding with staged singing involving Miriam, his sister and Pharoah’s daughter Bitia along the waterway (both in excellent singing performances from Hai-Ting Chinn and Heather Green). There were parts like the latter, clear, beautiful and powerful, that left me wondering why all of the video wasn’t the same high quality of thought and execution. The direction, by Kameron Steele, is similarly uneven, with a lot of elegant, smart staging that is completely integrated into the overall drama, and some stretches, like the penultimate scene, that are inappropriately static. These flaws, though not major, are frustrating because the work itself shows us how good it can be, and so the inconsistent parts stand out in a negative sense.

Still, the overall conception and execution is fascinating, truly involving. Gal’s music, which seems segmented and ritualistic on CD, really flows in the live performance, even as the staging of some scenes emphasizes a bit too much reliance on copying and pasting phrases and patterns to build sections. I was curious about how the narrative idea, different views of Moses from the women in his life, would come together into a coherent theme, and left impressed with how Gal brings the story all the way to the encounter with the Burning Bush through what are economical means. He strings together allegorical scenes and fills in what we need to know about the characters and their thoughts and feelings with the music, and the video and direction do the same. Moses is surrounded by women, and the storytelling surrounds the character and delineates him via external exploration and description. A fundamental key to this are the wild, brilliant costumes that Green designed with Gal, worn by the women, while Moses, danced by Nathan Guinsinger, is mostly partially clothed in basic black. The performances were assured and musical, including the singing of Beth Anna Hatton, Judith Barnes and Wesley Chin, with excellent instrumental solos from Argeo Ascani on the baritone sax and Margaret Lancaster on the bass flute. All these elements makes it an opera that really works, and an effective, and affecting, theatrical conception that will impress images and moments into your memory. This will certainly be one of the most interesting productions of the year. The run ends February 5, go see it.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.