Art Bath's De Gustation
Making Multi Media Art for the Masses
By: Susan Hall - May 15, 2023
Elizabeth Yilmaz and Mara Driscoll, two dancers from the Metropolitan Opera troupe, have created a performance series that’s as wonderful as it is unique. The final performance of the spring season, and the 9th produced by this team with associate Cesar Abreu, was in the spirit of a happening.
During cocktail hour, in a small room connecting the Sunken Garden space and the Clearlight Room, where the second and third events of the evening would take place, blank canvases hang on the wall and paints with brushes invite on a table beneath them. This is a prelude to a live painting experience that would have intrigued Jackson Pollock. Two rooms serve as galleries for the artwork of Carlos Mateu and Peter Sealy.
As the evening begins, Feifei Yang mounts a stage area tucked into the Front Gallery. She performs for a few minutes on the erhu, an instrument of the Hu people. The erhu has two strings and is a spike fiddle, whose special sound is created by python skin.
Blake Habermann parades onto the stage to join her. In his hand rolls a smooth, gleaming ball, which reflects the lights of the room. His unusual juggling performance accompanies Feifei’s beats. He enchants with humor and a precise sense of rhythm.
Briana Hunter then sweeps onto the stage for Part II. She is accompanied by Danny Zelibor on piano. While artists who contribute to this tasting menu are often encountered in opera, Art Bath gives them a chance to show the full range of their stuff. Super opera start Christian van Horn sang pop songs last year. He is now in the audience, supporting his compatriots.
Hunter sings Arlen, Massenet, and Ricky Gordon, a smorgasbord. She is dramatic and full of feeling as a performer. Up close and personal she thrills.
We move into the Sunken Garden, where Kanami Kusajima awaits us, sitting in the middle of a raised platform, surrounded by walls of plastic which hang from the ceiling. Like our introductory experience, in front of her meditative pose, paint bottles stand at the ready. What will she do.
As Tiga Jean Baptiste and Peter Apfelbaum begin to play rollicking music, Kusajima twists up, hurling paint at the walls and decorating the floor. While her movements are to the rhythm of the small band, the splashes are random and delightfully surprising.
In the Clearlight Room, a large space that is used for concluding performances, Ricardo Romaneiro sits at a piano keyboard connected to electronic sounds. Iconic dancer Katherine Crockett, a Martha Graham dancer, is swathed in gold and wears a molded gold mask that slips on and off.
Their beautiful moments were followed by Ben Bliss, an important new opera tenor known for his creation of Tom in Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress as well as La Boheme. Now he sings Leiber and Stoller and concludes with Ray Charles.
He is a singer, which means that he brings the meaning of the text into his musical lines. He holds the last notes of a phrase for a deliciously long period and then skips lightly to the beginning note of the next phrase. Couples danced to his catchy notes along the catwalk which this space provides.
Bliss has a magical presence and can be seen in Beethoven’s Ninth, The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni. It’s hard to understand why the Met Opera, which has trouble attracting audience, does not hire a house talent like Bliss to sing a broader repertoire for a big evening of song in their house. Like Beyonce and Lady Gaga, Bliss could sell out quickly with a popular program and fund some of their challenging productions.
Art Bath leads the way to audiences. The atmosphere is warm and welcoming and full of surprise for every taste.