nytheatre.com review by Anthony Johnston
January 26, 2011
Combining elements of traditional opera performance, physical theatre, multimedia, and ancient ritual, Mosheh, making its world premiere at HERE, is a dynamic new “video opera” which tells the tale of the Biblical Moses. With a live orchestra and a sprawling, multi-layered video backdrop, Mosheh examines the legendary figure’s early life, and shines light on his relationships with the women who nurtured and protected him from his infancy through his maturation, influencing the development of a man who came to be one of the scripture’s most important prophets. Mosheh’s sister, adoptive mother, wife, and, finally, birth mother appear to him one by one, giving us new insight into the origins of this hero and revealing ancient pagan traditions often overlooked in the text.
Like a pretty little bird, Hai-Ting Chinn flits about the stage as Mosheh’s sister, Miriam. Her aria to her baby brother as he drifts away on the river Nile in a basket is one of the more beautiful moments in the piece. Chinn is a gorgeous mezzo-soprano and manages to connect to the audience with charm and humor despite being behind a scrim for her entire performance.
The most dramatic tension in Mosheh comes when Heather Green makes her entrance as Bitia, adoptive mother of Moses. I was in shock and awe as she sang a repetition of glass-shatteringly high notes in an animalistic maternal ritual as she claims Mosheh as her own. Green’s powerhouse vocals also manage to cut through the veiled layer of the scrim and hit us right in our hearts.
The fantastic female foursome is rounded out by Beth Anne Hatton and Judith Barnes, as Mosheh’s wife, Zipporah, and birth mother, Yocheved, respectively. Each of them fills her archetypal role with a grounded balance of vulnerability and strength.
Nathan Guinsinger inhabits the role of Mosheh with power and grace. Mosheh does not sing in this opera, and speaks only very briefly, so Guinsinger has only his body to convey all that Mosheh experiences on his journey. The control and specificity in his body—similar to that of a Japanese Butoh dancer—made it almost impossible to keep your eyes off him. Even when he is still, there seems to be so much movement and life inside of him. His Mosheh perfectly anchors Yoav Gal’s beautifully chaotic score and constantly mutating video landscape.
Gal’s costume design, created in collaboration with performer Heather Green, is futuristic and bright: Lady Gaga meets The Jetsons. This works in some places; Miriam’s electric blue wig is wild, but still beautiful, and compliments the rushing river projected all around her. However, Bitia’s alien-like costume, with her orange spikey hair and body covered with orbs resembling Saturn’s rings, is a bit too on the cartoon-y side and only distracts from Green’s power as a performer.
Because most of the text is sung in Hebrew, it may be difficult for non-Hebrew speaking audiences to follow all of the details of the story, and due to a technical glitch with the projections at last night’s performance, many of the English supertitles were not shown. Hopefully, when all is running smoothly and more of the libretto is translated and projected in English, it will be easier for spectators to grasp the subtleties of Mosheh's narrative. Either way though, Mosheh is a lush, vibrant, and very contemporary new opera. Whether you fully understand the story or not, this multimedia theatrical event will take you on a fantastical journey of the senses.