Songs of the Fisherman
Arreola; Mixon (dancer); instrumentalists. Production: T. Nelson. Albany Records 1456, 78 mins, English texts
Timothy Nelson is not only an opera and theater director but, as his bio indicates, a conductor, designer and composer. Based on the evidence here, he's more than credible in the last category. His skillful and original Songs of the Fisherman, an opera–dance–theater piece for solo tenor (Brian Arreola), dancer (Alison Mixon) and six musicians (string quartet plus piano and percussion), is by turns colorfully atmospheric and acerbically driving. Arreola, in his notes, describes the piece as a "ritualized meditation on the human lifecycle"; the evocative, culturally diverse texts are by Andrew Albin.
Arreola — shirtless, robust of voice and physically dextrous — is quite impressive. Most of his incantatory singing involves stylized movement to varying degrees. At times, he's a full-fledged partner with Mixon, who is lithe, expressive and in full control of Gretchen Alterowitz's deliberately paced choreography. Here and there, Arreola also plays percussion. The beautiful visual tableau, with scenic design by Anita Tripathi Easterling and lighting by Matt Fergen, features the musicians onstage and a projection of the moon on a blue-lit backdrop; a large suspended hoop also comes into play. The video work is equally praiseworthy, with a fluid mix of camera angles and well-timed close-ups on the musicians. There's something great about seeing the unity of all these artists as they perform this non-literal yet oddly coherent piece. As Arreola says, "Ultimately … the identities of the characters and the meaning of the narrative are created by the viewer." If you're okay with that sort of ambiguity, unusual aesthetic pleasures await you here.
The DVD also includes La Ricerca della Spiritualità Trascendente, a stimulating, eighteen-minute Bartókian solo-violin piece by Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann, performed with élan and intensity by Wei-Wei Le, the concertmaster from the Nelson work.
Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.