I saw *Magdalene* at Prototype Opera on 1/13/20. It's a brand new opera on a set of poems by Marie Howe with the thirteen movements written by thirteen different composers: Leila Adu-Gilmore, Ruby Kato Attwood, Danielle Birrittella, Sheena Birrittella, Christina Courtin, Gabrielle Herbst, Molly Joyce, Emma O'Halloran, Tanner Porter, Kamala Sankaram, Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir, Annika Socolofsky, and Gyda Valtýsdóttir, with additional music by Ellen Reid. The opera was created by Danielle Birrittella (who also sang the only singing role) and Zoe Aja Moore (who was the stage director).

 

I was interested in the format of the piece, was curious to see how they'd meld together the work of so many different composers. They gave each composer a scene, and the title of the scene was projected onto the surtitles screen, so you'd know that you were hearing the work of a different composer. The continuity was courtesy of all of the text being written by one person and by the instrumentation, for string quartet and harp (I was thrilled to see a harp in the ensemble when I walked in, I love me some harp).

 

The tone of the piece was set with the first line: "Was I ever virgin?" The general tone of trauma and crisis was exhausting. It felt longer than 75 minutes, and I'm a Wagner fan so 75 minutes shouldn't feel long to me! Tristan is just walking onstage for the first time at the 75 minute mark...

 

My favorite music was in the second scene, written by Bergrún Snæbjörnsdóttir. Gorgeous music, sort of Debussy lite. The music in general was well done and effective. I might ask for more variety of texture - - if I were one of those composers, I would have written my scene for the singer and solo cello, to give it a sharper profile. Two of the scenes used a pre-recorded percussion track, that was a welcome change.

 

The other performer was dancer Ariana Daub. She didn't dance very much, she mostly walked around naked. It made me uncomfortable - - if I was cold (and I was), how cold must she have been? Especially since she had just been wading in the water. BTW the water was one of the most beautiful elements of the show, the light reflecting off the water onto the scrim was hypnotic.

 

The weakest link in the show was the singing of Birrittella. She gave a deeply felt, committed performance, but her voice was pale and shallow. According to her bio she's classically trained but has made her career as a pop singer, singer/songwriter. She sounded like that. In an opera, you really want a juicy voice, you want the expression to be embedded in the singing. That wasn't happening with her. I'd be very interested to hear it or see it again with a different singer, I think it would be much stronger. But hey, she was co-creator of the show, so who's gonna tell her she's not good enough?

 

One of the surprises of the show as how little it had to do with Mary Magdelene. It seemed to be simply (complexly) about a contemporary prostitute. The bits that referenced Jesus were late in the show, and they were merely suggestive of Jesus and the Passion.

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