Noguchi Garden, in Costa Mesa, became the site of an early gathering of five ancient Heroes and Villains the likes of Agamemnon (Legendary king of Mycenae, Leader of the Greek Army in the Trojan War, Illiad) . We see him wandering the stark environ, expounding the words of Aeschylus (c.525-456) and being crossed by Clytemnestra, Medea, Theseus and Cassandra of Troy, along with groups of elegantly dressed onlookers, and interrupted only by a random Street Dancer in white, wearing earphones and dancing to rhythms that no one else was privy to. This ghostlike gathering was a spectre of things to come, a feast of Ancients, prior to the opening of Long Beach Opera’s presentation of THE FEAST in partnership with Elizabeth Segerstrom and the Henry T. and Elizabeth Segerstrom Foundation.
The curious crowds gathered hopping over small streams, large rocks, and grassy knolls. All the characters brightly costumed by Molly Irelan to be re-imagined and soon defined more fully in staging and dance by James Darrah, Co-Creator and Director, (new Artistic Director and Chief Creative Officer of Long Beach Opera); and Janet Eilber, Co-Creator & Choreographer (Artistic Director for the Martha Graham Company).
Soon, the crowd began collecting into processions guided by the “Heroes and Villains“ and waved onto Samueli Theater at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Everything was thought of, even police escorts redirecting traffic, as the patrons sauntered across the street then through to the Center’s open glass doors, entering into the airy entranceway and through the door to the banquet hall, A sudden view of the colors, low lighting and banquet finery took ones breath away. Elegant tables were set with the riches of a true FEAST! The guests euphoric with this affluence, the sounds of Crystal and China clinking, candle’s flickering with ambient light, and center pieces filled with fruit and greenery, was a virtual horn of plenty.
Historic Films of the Graham Company with Noguchi’s stark designs were projected on the front wall. A menu strategically placed with a program of the evenings’ unique presentation sat next to the elegant settings of plates, cloth napkins and wine glasses. With the dinner-patrons settled, it signaled for the musician’s to gather and soon the exquisite music of George Frideric Handel wafted through the air played by the Feast Ensemble, three violins (Andrew McIntosh, Anna Washburn, and Heesun Choi), A Viola (Aaron Westman), Cello (Eva Lymenstull), Oboe (Lot Demeyer), and Harpsichord (Ian Pritchard) opening the hearts and made for rapt listening.
Soon, our Street Dancer appears on the stage which is set up in front of the long tables filled with expectant guests. Again, perhaps a bit ignored, he listens to his iPod and freely romps to the rhythms unheard by the audience. Soon there is a sudden transformation, and the magnificent voice of the young countertenor, Jakub Józef Orliński is heard, as though coming from heaven. This wonderful reveal delights the audience as Orliński becomes Alexander the Great (336-323BC)… dressed in white opaque Greek garb and disclosing his powerful body… And the Long Beach Opera’s marvelous FEAST begins.
The stunning Soprano, Anna Schubert, as Cleopatra, appears in all her glory at the head of the center table. Shimmering in her white and gold robes she dons an ornate gold headdress. Her malleable voice trills with the gorgeous strains of Handel. The super titles by Aeschylus guides us though the movements of our heroes and villains as they unite in song and movement. Alexander even holds his own with the dance and dancers. All are guided through the story of rebellion and vanquishment of the enemy of freedom unfolding in dance battles, debates, and gestures to the strains of stunning voices and music using multiple Handel pieces, many from Alessandro (Lusinghe Piu Care, No, più soffrir non voglio, Duetto In generoso onor).
This sumptuous experience is a treat in every way…with the performers overcoming the logistical concerns with grace. The Graham dancers were designed by Eilber and fashioned after Martha’s ballets, with echoes of Clytemnestra, Bacchanale and Lamentations, (projected on screen). It embellished the story, yet in the limited space became slightly unrestrained. However, the piece was done with such abandon, the audience was still charmed by it all.
All the activities, counter plots, if unfamiliar, are helped by program notes that guide the patrons through the success of Cleopatra in the final strains of THE FEAST. The culmination of the night presents a dramatic finale, inspiring all to stand in an appreciative ovation. A luscious evening of music, theatre, and dance calls for a Congratulations to Long Beach Opera for a wondrous experience.
Handel pieces performed during the performance included: Sonata a quattro for oboe and 2 violins, HWV 404; Torna sol per un memento, Tolomeo; HWV_393_II Allegro; Lusinghe Piu Care, Alessandro; Duetto – Troppo inganni la mia fede, Serse; Overture Agrippina; Vaghe fonti, from Agrippina; HWV_393_Largo; Piangero, Guilio Cesare; Agitato da fiere tempeste, Riccardo; No, piu soffrir non voglio, Alessandro; Tacero, Agrippina; Moriro, ma vendicata, Teseo; Pena Tiranna, Amadigi; Duetto In generoso onor, Alessandro; and Tu del ciel ministro eletto, Trionfo del Tempo.
For more information about the Long Beach Opera, please visit their website.
For more information about the Martha Graham Dance Company, please visit their website.
For more information about the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, please visit their website.
Written by Joanne DiVito for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Long Beach Opera’s THE FEAST – Anne Souder as Cassandra of Troy – Photo by Phillip Faraone