Juventas New Music Ensemble‘s upcoming events:
Deep in the Balkans, a wandering gypsy woman, Roma (Hilary Anne Walker), meets and agrees to share a week of travel with Hajduk (Kevin Kees), an outlaw. They are not characters, really, but character archetypes who have drifted from their respective stories. Now they seek an audience.
Roma and Hajduk encounter a pair of young people, Youth (Leslie Tay) and Vixen (Anna Ward), and charm them with animal folk songs. A dancing bear (Kate Paulsen) helps set a light mood, playing the comic relief for the rest of the story.
Juventas New Music Ensemble gives us a short, contemporary opera with a shifting, transitory shape. Folk and fairy tales are layered over another in The Fiddler and the Old Woman of Rumelia, culminating in a theatrical experience rather than a single plot.
Once inside the village, Roma and Hajduk’s songs and stories become darker, stranger, and more lascivious. Frogs, roosters, cats, and bears drop to the wayside as thieving husbands, naïve brides, and baffled elders begin to fill the roles. Vixen in particular uses the stories as an opportunity to explore her burgeoning sexuality. The storytellers begin to mimic their own fictions, the week dissolving around them.
Ketty Nez, who wrote the music and libretto, explores this territory fearlessly. Her bio indicates The Fiddler and the Old Woman is an attempt to better understand and showcase her family history, which includes such countries as Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The diverse, Eastern European area is not one that usually makes it to stage.
During the piece, the orchestra responds to characters with wavering strings and staccato, described accurately in the show notes as “composerly ‘reactions’” or “vocal gestures.” The music may not sit well on every audience member’s palate, but like the bear and tarot cards that appear on stage, it’s a firm part of this world. It turns the mundane mystical.
Stereotypical opera fare, populated with valkyries and heroes, has no place here. Neither do audiences with a conventional definition of what should be on stage. Each performance is instead reserved for oral tradition of the Balkans, inviting theater-goers to witness a living, breathing folk tale before it dissolves into the night once more.