*Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists,* Jan 12, 2021
I saw *Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists* on January 12, 2021. It was a video performance, produced by Prototype Opera. I don’t know when or where the performance was filmed, but it was a live performance in front of an audience.
The music was by Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurðsson on a text by A Rawlings. The music was pretty, dreamy, delicate. Maybe a little fey for my taste, but easy to take, unlike *The Murder of Halit Yozgat,* the Prototype show I had turned off in order to watch this one. The opera didn’t appear to have a story but I knew from the program notes that it had something to do with human sleep patterns and the life cycle of butterflies. Not exactly Verdi, right?
One of the highlights of the performance was the different characters of the singers in the performance. They were:
Sasha Siem: a young woman in a white wig. Her voice was breathy and feathery.
Alexi Murdoch: a hunky young man (shirt off, naturally) with a beard. His voice was attractive in a nondescript way.
And my favorite: Ásgerður Júníusdóttir, an older woman (50-ish) with a gray wig that looked like it was made out of yarn. Her voice had a distinctive vibrato, like she was singing at us from behind a box fan. I loved her, I saw this as a good thing. Here she is singing a song by (who else) Björk:
The music became less ethereal and more kinetic in the third scene. The rhythms were a little jazzy, the harmonies were still repetitive but the repetitions seemed to have more of a purpose. The fourth scene started with a lovely cello solo. This developed into an instrumental interlude, another good idea in a chamber opera. Clearly this guy thought about what makes an opera not just good but interesting.
The music in the next scene was driving with what appeared to be constantly shifting rhythmic patterns, though I imagine it might have been an offbeat rhythmic pattern repeating in a clever way. This scene also featured a lot of flashing video. It was unclear whether the flashing was being done on the stage or if it was added in via video in post production. Does it matter?
The next scene had the woman in the white wig speaking the same phrase over and over again: “Welcome to the center for sleep and dream studies.” The woman in the yarn wig was on the other side, singing and waving her arms in an elaborate and dedicated manner. The hunky guy (who had put on a shirt) was in a box between them, being tied up by a third woman we hadn’t previously seen. The two of them danced around in the box, with the ropes. Why not.
The next scene featured the two women singing together, another nice idea. Their voices didn’t really blend but in a sense that made the pairing more interesting. The man had a solo scene from the middle of the box, tied up in the ropes. The music was suitably inert and aimless.
The man had another solo scene, though he had liberated himself from the ropes. The woman who had tied him up was laying on top of the box where he was standing, eventually working her way into what appeared to be an enormous neon macramé plant hanger. The music was mournful. I thought to myself, “You won’t be seeing THAT at the Met!”
The woman in the white wig had the solo part in the next scene, still mournful. The stage was scattered with video projections of butterflies and floating letters of the alphabet. Then another instrumental interlude, this time with a strong electronic element to the music, lots of spooky metallic sounds.
The two women sang together again. The woman in the yarn wig had a vocal part that was so wordy that her vibrato didn’t really have time to do its thing. Was she singing in Japanese? The music calmed down and she was full bloom with her throaty wondrousness. The woman in the white wig appeared to be untangling a ball of white rope. The woman in the yarn wig sang some meaningful (to her) melismas, raising her arms like the butterfly she wanted to be.
The final scene started with automated beeping, not too often - - let’s say it was on 2 and 4, not on every beat of the measure. The nice thing about the ending is that I could tell it was the ending at the start of the scene, it had a satisfying sense of closure right from the start. The man came back. The three singers were getting ready for bed, so clearly had to take his shirt off again. The two women did better than that, they took their wigs off!