Review: Mostly Mozart Brings a Visually and Aurally Stunning ‘Creation’ to Life
By Brian Taylor, Contributing Writer, July 23, 2018
Mostly Mozart Festival’s recent presentation of Barcelona-based La Fura dels Baus’s and conductor Laurence Equilbey’s version of the Haydn oratorio The Creation is one of my favorite types of creations. Multimedia iterations of classical pieces are developing a solid foothold in the offerings by long staid concert institutions. I remember how fresh, even delightfully arcane, Ligeti’s Le Grande Macabre was at the New York Philharmonic in 2010, under the tutelage of conductor Alan Gilbert and director Doug Fitch, in a similarly elaborate, sold out production at (then) Avery Fisher Hall.
This production further ups the ante, requiring the fly-space of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. Carlos Padrissa, founder of La Fura dels Baus, has assembled an inspired multi-layered visual spectacle that brings to life Haydn’s take on the creation story in the Age of Enlightenment. Combining the Bible with modern science, the thematic thread of DNA highlighted, this enchanting production keenly employs a wide range of simple tools, from balloons to iPads, to illustrate and enhance this timeless combination of music and text.
Laurence Equilbey, an intellectually powerful conductor with probing insight into the psychological nature of music, clearly knows how to rehearse and mold a performance. She is the founder of period instrument Insula Orchestra and the chamber chorus accentus. She excels at bringing out the spirit of the Haydn’s music. When the tenor sings that soon-to-arrive Light will disperse the spirits of Hell, the chromatic gestures in the strings are not mere musical scales, but ghosts from the abyss. This is what historically informed performance practice is really about: learning where the expression, and contrast, lives in the music.
Haydn’s The Creation, an oratorio inspired by those of Handel, dates from 1798, and employs text from the Bible’s Genesis and Psalms, and Milton’s Paradise Lost to depict the Biblical creation myth. In the first two sections, the protagonists are angels, and in the third section, we meet Adam and Eve, who praise the deity’s creation and marital bliss. The soloists, Christina Landshamer as Gabriel/Eve, Robin Tritschler as Uriel, and Thomas Tatzl as Raphael/Adam, must be commended for performing with utmost musical integrity while being called upon to do everything from singing while submerged in an aquarium of water, to flying. But it’s worth the effort. The aquarium scenes are compelling in their fetal visuals, while the singers perform an erotic ballet.
Numerous large balloons are the basis of various striking stage pictures like giant red strands of DNA, or giant eyeballs, lashed and blinking, assembled in piles like fish roe. The use of projections in the theatre has rarely been so striking. Lighting design is crucial throughout, the stage awash in raindrops of color, and the costumes themselves affixed with thousands of little lights. The visuals on iPads, in the hands of the chorus, are used to detailed and mysterious effect, as when they are seemingly the sole source of light on stage.
Equilbey’s Insula Orchestra plays beautifully, with a rich sound, and lacking the mannerism and stiffness that can sometimes weigh down period instrument ensembles. The acoustics in Rose Theatre were ideal for these forces. As the orchestra plays the opening aural depiction of Chaos, we gaze upon hypnotizing, arresting projections, and it eventually opens up to make endlessly imaginative use of theatrical space. The chorus is clearly dressed and directed to depict refugees and migrants, in one of Padrissa’s more contrived, albeit relevant, metaphors.
I hope we see more of this type of event. Reimagining how we experience great classical music, freeing it from the precious trappings of yesteryear, and employing the latest in technology to create a new hybrid of theatrical arts. Broadway could take a lesson from the fresh creativity La Fura dels Baus displays, at how simplicity can be an asset. Great pieces like The Creation are most impactful when the music and music-making are front and center, which these artists have somehow managed to do, despite all of the activity onstage, because it relies on the audience’s imagination as the most important special effect in the room.
Haydn’s Die Schöpfung (“The Creation”) presented as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater on July 19-20, 2018. Production by La Fura dels Baus, directed by Carlus Padrissa; conducted by Laurence Equilbey; featuring accentus, choir and Insula Orchestra; with soloists Christina Landshamer (Gabriel and Eve), Robin Tritschler (Uriel), and Thomas Tatzl (Raphael and Adam).
Cover: Tenor Robin Tritschler and members of accentus choir in La Fura dels Baus theater company’s staging of Haydn’s ‘The Creation’ with Insula Orchestra at Lincoln Center’s 2018 Mostly Mozart Festival; photo: Stephanie Berger.