Presented by ArtsEmerson and Gare St Lazare Ireland
Conceived and created by Judy Hegarty Lovett, Paul Clark, Conor Lovett, Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh
Includes texts from Watt, The Unnamable, First Love, Words and Music, and Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett
Composed/music directed by Paul Clark
Additional compositions by Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston, MA) Here All Night is a chamber opera with women’s ensemble based on the works of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. Let that sink in; it’s a contemporary opera with source texts by the man who wrote Waiting for Godot (among other abstractions). This is not a “normal” piece of pleasant theatre. Buckle your seatbelts and gird your loins, it’s going to be a bumpy night.
When the performance begins, the dim house lighting is still up. The audience comprised of students and adults are chatting, coughing and rustling paper. Like in the rest of the production, we are waiting for the usual cues from crew and artists. We don’t get them. Much of the performance is like this. We are alienated because we expect to be told what to do and when to do it.
Conor Lovett, the narrating actor, delivers monologues that sound strange but aren’t funny. We laugh because we feel like we’re supposed to or because we’re surprised by what he says. “Part One: 3 Krek Variations” sounds like frogs singing a froggy elegy. The rhythms are impressively precise but the audience focuses on the frog-like quality because: frogs. It’s fascinating how this work manipulates the audience the way it does.
The libretto is helpfully supplied in the programme. A note from the Director Judy Hegarty Lovett gives a brief summary of the creation of the work. She tackles her approach to Beckett, and explains why Here All Night is what it is. To appreciate this production, it’s not enough to know that it is inspired by Beckett. Prospective audience members must be in the correct frame of mind and have researched what they are about to see. Several younger patrons hadn’t done this work and decided to leave early. It’s a shame. They missed a learning opportunity that doesn’t come along often.
Soloist Melanie Pappenheim has a voice that shimmers like daylight on a still, clear pool. It is light and her interpretations of folk song cut right to the heart. The women’s ensemble is comforting like a whisper. Their work with and within the heavy silence of the Main Stage is impressive. They with orchestra members Christopher Allan (cello), Cleek Schrey (hardanger d’amore), and John-Paul Gandy (piano) sound the way a mythical beast looks.
Here All Night is the kind of contemporary classical music that may not have bars, measures or even key signatures. It is a far cry from the strictly academic fare Boston pretends that it is accustomed to: the fiddle is entirely improvised; the piano is raucous when it isn’t playing singular notes in repeat a la Philip Glass; the women’s ensemble is mostly vibrato-less; Lovett interjects but offers no explanation. For all this, it is highly organized in the way classical music often is. It is a stirring performance in sweeping phrases and sweet folk song. The performances are excellent; they create rich, luscious art together. The tension in the room is taut like a fine thread on a loom. In the end, it may not matter if we understand it.
Here All Night is accompanied by art installation, “Hello, Sam Redux,” by Brian O’Doherty. Public viewing times: Oct 6 – Oct 8, also in the Emerson/Paramount Main Stage. More information found here.