Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) Fort Point Theatre Channel presented three scenes from Swindell and Warhol’s modern opera Jeanne, the story of a woman last weekend. It was a fully staged and accompanied by Robert Schulz on percussion, and The Boston String Quartet. The vocalists were joined onstage by the agile dancers from Contrapose Dance. Jeanne is not your grandma’s opera. It is more Rice’s The Adding Machine or Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock in style and sound than La Boheme or Traviata. Depending on what you want from opera, it was either very weird or fascinating art.
Fort Point’s media sources describe Jeanne as ”a modern day tale of birth, labor, death … a story of wisdom that comes with age, and of innocence that only youth can claim as their own.” The story takes place in a factory in which Jeanne (Anna Ward) and Mark (Patrick Massey) begin their friendship. As we learn more about our heroes, dancers Nina Brindamour, Danielle Davidson, and Magdalena Gyftopoulos enact the factory labors and processes through vigorous modern dance. They represent factory function, and the emotional barometer of the production. Vocalists and dancers informed each other’s performances to wildly successful degrees.
Librettist Swindell and composer Warhol do not make the jobs of vocalists Ward and Massey easy for them. The libretto’s lyrics are rife with chewy vocabulary sustained on high notes and counterintuitive intervals. Save a few, brief exceptions, both tackled the score with aplomb and sensitivity. They did their darndest to make their performances look and sound downright easy. The vocalists didn’t sound pretty. This is not a pretty opera but it was interesting to consume.
The best performances of the evening were delivered by the members of Contrapose Dance. Their physical and lyrical prowess kept equal pace with the vocalists and instrumentalists. Their physical manifestations of factory work, character development, and inner turmoil were jawdroppingly poetic. They beautifully navigated the zones between physical experience and emotional expression. But the best part of the evening was watching the dancers weave in and out of the same performance “zone” that the singers inhabited. The transfer of energy between the performers was truly a wonder to see.
Jeanne is surprisingly feminist but doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test. The plot, as informed by as the performance last weekend, takes no risks. The characters develop slowly if at all. The real draws are the performances from the cast and musicians. Lastly, it was uncomfortably warm in the BU Dance Theater on Saturday, September 12. It didn’t take away from the performance but did make the audience wriggle.