Contemplation, Charm, and Chickens in Gallo: A Fable in Music in One Act – Encore Performance

Presented and Commissioned by Guerilla Opera
Music and Libretto by Ken Ueno
Directed by Sarah Meyers
Set Design by Julia Noulin‐Mérat 

Live Watch Party April 23, 2021 8pm EST 
Video on Demand April 24 – May 16, 2021 
Filmed from a live performance on May 23, 2014 in the Zack Box at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee
Tickets available until Sunday, May 16, 2021
Guerilla Opera on Facebook

Review by Gillian Daniels

(Boston, MA) Have you heard the one about the chicken that crossed the road? Yes? What about the one regarding what came first, the chicken or the egg? Really? Okay. What about the one about Diogenes the Cynic who, when Plato called men “featherless bipeds,” plucked a chicken, brought it to Plato’s Academy, and shouted, “Behold! A man!” Because the last is a wonderful encapsulation of what Ken Ueno and Guerilla Opera have created.

The encore performance of Gallo: A Fable in Music in One Act uses animals to poke at mortal folly, to laugh at us and our flimsy hold on the order of the universe, at ontology, philosophy, and all the castles we build in culture that will one day fall into the sea. That particular anecdote is also a great definition of the show’s continued subversion of expectations, like the fact it takes place on a beach made entirely of Cheerios. 

This experimental opera begins in solemn territory with the Baroque form of the passacaglia. As the 1750 Lisbon earthquake and the Fukushima disaster are invoked, the music flows in a chill, eddying stream. The ensemble plays a game with Amy Advocat (Clarinets), Kent O’Doherty (Saxophone), Mike Williams (Percussion), and Nicole Cariglia (Cello) throwing a ball back and forth as beachside tourists.

I admit, I was perplexed with the choice to start here. Beyond the beach of breakfast cereal, what’s so remarkable about all this, I thought? And so, Ken Ueno and Guerilla Opera cast their spell, and I was lulled into a false sense of security.

Galante or Farinelli, The Gallo (played by the fantastic Douglas Dodson as countertenor), reflects on the achievements of humans, our scientific curiosity and our drive for greatness, and the ultimate inertia of things. He sings of sorrow though his foppish costume and wig seems to indicate he’s insulated from it. It’s during the Rooster Ballet that he sheds his coat and shucks off much of his costume, revealing his true chicken form beneath.

Here, the Shopper (Aliana de la Guardia, soprano and enthusiastic comedienne), erupts from the Cheerios. She taunts and flirts with Galante, collects his clothes into shopping bags, and shows off a costume that suggests her own animal alter-ego: a hen. The Shopper is not a woman to be taken lightly, but a bold, comic presence that transforms the cereal sandbox from simple animal fable to screwball comedy. Galante is an eccentric academic contrasted with the Shopper’s excess and connection to the material world.

Gallo struts into gorgeous if not specifically unique territory. This is a show that illuminates a fairly simple message: consumption also consumes the consumer. The Shopper funnels the energy she devoted to teasing Galante into talking on a phone, a piece of technology that allows her to communicate with more ease but not necessarily with more clarity. Soundscapes periodically take over the music, sawing, sliding under the skin, and underscoring vibrant, neon lights that divebomb from exciting to gaudy and banal. 

The show continually builds tension and releases it with humor. The opera seems to cross over into parody regarding the surreality of its own medium, modern opera, and then crosses back to talk about the woes of Late Stage Capitalism and mortality. Our anthropomorphized feathered friends skip through apparent romance and eventual, cheerfully morbid despair. 

Before I knew it, I found myself invested in Gallo’s poignancy and warmth. For opera-fans and adventurous theater-goers, this encore performance is a must-see. Life’s a beach and then you die, it seems to say, but also, that beach is made of our accumulated history, which includes philosophy, kites, sitcoms, and, yes, Cheerios.

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