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Been there, done that.....

by Joel Kasow

GENEVA, 29 January 1999 - One of today's theatrical grand old men (but not even 60 years old), guru Robert Wilson, once again vividly evokes a sense of déjà-vu, with his performers imitating Japanese marionettes in slow motion, his hieratic pavanes, individuals assigned a characteristic movement, all long familiar to spectators who have seen his operatic productions in Paris, Salzburg, Zürich or even the Metropolitan.

Scourge of Hyacinths

Scourge of Hyacinths was composed by Tania León, to a libretto she co-authored with Nobel prizewinner Wole Soyinka based on a play he wrote for the BBC. After a first outing at the Munich Biennale in 1994, the work has been slightly revised and is now presented as part of the official programme of international celebrations commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The opera takes place in an unidentified country, switching between the present and flashbacks that feature Tiatin, which are not always clearly defined as a result of the fluidity of Wilson's work. While Wilson often comes up with beautiful and even striking images, his passepartout approach rapidly becomes wearisome. A long essay in the program by dramaturge Holm Keller (who is also an adviser to the Vienna office of McKinsey) explains the Wilson method, which here overpowers a music that only occasionally flowers into warm lyricism, such as Tiatin's final intervention. Too often, the aural impression is one of lots of percussion, with largely unintelligible text (in English) for which the French subtitles were an enormous help.

Bonita Hyman's Tiatin is as impressive for the ease with which she assumes the Wilson mannerisms as for her rich mezzo soprano. Timothy Robert Blevins as the other major figure, Miguel Domingo, displayed a wide-ranging baritone that contrasted with the other low-voiced characters, Oziel Garza-Ornelas (Emuke) and Johannes von Duisburg (Prison Director). Vanya Abrahams, Jean-Louis Meunier and Jin-Hak Mok rounded out the cast, while we can only assume that with the composer at the helm all was exactly as she would have wanted.

Scourge of Hyacinths
Coproduction: Grand Théâtre de Genève / Opéra de Nancy / Neues Festspielhaus de Sankt Pölten

Photo : Bonita Hyman as Tiatin
Credit : GTG / Carole Parodi

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