The Rose Elf by David Hertzberg

Unison Media and Greenwood Cemetery Present Opera

By: - Jun 07, 2018

The Rose Elf
By David Hertzberg
Directed by R.B. Schlather
Unison Media and Greenwood Cemetery
Brooklyn, New York
June 6-10, 2018

The Rose Elf by David Hertzberg received its world premiere at the Catacombs in the Green-Wood Cemetery. If this is the afterlife of opera, the form is in good shape and good hands. Masterful producer Andrew Ousley takes opera to unusual habitats and invigorates all the creative people involved, including the audience.

Hertzberg composes both music and text. Each element bears his unique capacity to give it all up and throw everything at a moment. Don't think that words are meaningless, or that any phrase and group of sounds is not prepared and performed with an exquisite sense of its sound and meaning. Yet the sense that you could not have heard or felt more is the essence of opera's draw. Rarely are we treated to such extremes done with taste and power.

The opera begins with beats from the orchestral area at the south end of the tube. The drum is soon joined by strings, piano, clarinet, horn, chimes, and gongs. The effects are large and live. Yet the singers’ voices carry and are never drowned by orchestral sound. They remain distinct and clear, in anguish and also whispered words of love.

The Elf is protagonist and driver of moral force. Long-stemmed mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey is a creature of nature, as only an elf who lives in linden leaves and rose petals can be. Like Mohammed Ali, she floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.

Hertzberg often collaborates with R.B. Schlather, whose symbolic catwalks have an odd incarnation in this tubular cement tunnel near the remains of past days (including Leonard Bernstein). Schlather is accustomed to producing on a narrow walkway. Usually his audience is on the ground below, looking up at the goings on. Here we are on stage level, in two long rows lining the walls. The music and performance are in our faces.

Lighting by JAX Messenger is provided by a principle spotlight which can glare like the midday sun and also sink down to an horizon. A ceiling spot plays on leaves as they fall from above to bury the thug brother. In a space that confines, light-play keeps an open feel.

The singers, because they are so near to the audience, act dramatically, but in a bubble, where audience is not acknowledged. This enables them to perform. For us, the experience is up close, but not intimate.  Yet sitting next to the singers, you are engulfed by their voices. This is a particular treat when you listen to Alisa Jordheim, whose soprano can be sweet, and also penetrate in fear and confusion.  Kyle Bielfield's tenor, with a pleasing edge, cuts through the air with glorious tones. Andrew Bogard growls his way through murderous thoughts to murder while he uses subtle dynamics and color. 

The audience also provides ballast and help to take the edge off bright sounds. At times, the notes actually reverberate in our chests as their overtones come close. It is a unique and thrilling experience, which does not stop with the notes. Bielfield (the Lover) asked what he might do to Jordheim/The Girl. She said:’ Anything you want to.” As they grapple with each other and entwine, you are on top of them, part of it all. The message of their erotic attraction is inescapable.

Hertzberg has created an epic in miniature from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. Lucia di Lammermoor has a similar story line. Anyone familiar with the fairy tale hopes for a Salome moment. In fact the gifted singer/dancer/actress Jordheim, who sings the role of Luna, suggests the severed head of her lover as she grasps his neck and circles it with arm movements.

If references abound to literature and myth in the story telling, the words are unique and the music is in its own zone, difficult to compare with any other and yet satisfying.

Try The Crypt Sessions in Upper Manhattan and The Angel's Share in the Green-Wood Cemetery. Here classic and cutting edge music is produced in expansive settings which both thrill and satisfy.