I saw *Sun and Sea* at BAM on September 17, 2021. It’s an opera by Lithuanian composer Lina Lapelytė and librettist Vaiva Graintyė which had its premiere in Lithuania in 2017 and was translated into English and performed at the Venice Biennale in 2019. The BAM production was the US premiere and the first stop on its American tour. Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Bentonville, check it out!
The opera has a fascinating concept. The BAM production was in the BAM Fisher theater, their small, black box theater. The audience was brought up to the balcony where they looked down on the opera. BAM had removed all of the seating and filled the space with 25 tons of sand. The cast consisted of 13 singers and 9 others, all of them dressed for the beach and laying on towels. The instrumental component was a single electronic keyboard. It wasn’t clear to me if the keyboard player was offstage or if it was pre-recorded.
The opera started at 6pm and lasted for an hour, at which point a new audience arrived (the 6pm audience was encouraged to leave) and the performers started the opera from the top without a break. They did it four times in a row, ending at 10pm. This might seem like it would be taxing, but the singers don’t actually do very much singing - - never any more than five minutes of solo singing and probably a total of 15-20 minutes of ensemble singing in that hour.
I would classify the experience as “fascinating” rather than “good.” It was definitely unlike anything I had seen before, which is always a plus. It made me think that the next opera I write (and I do still on a certain level see myself as an opera composer) should be more abstract and rooted in an oddball staging concept like this, not simply a mezzo as Wallis Simpson reclining on a chaise lounge and singing, “Abdica-a-a-ation.”
This is an opera that clearly wasn’t built on the desire for drama, forward motion, or harmonic variety. It can be a while before I hear an electronic keyboard spell out the three notes in a major chord: 5-1-3, 5-1-3, 5-1-3, over and over. By the time 40 minutes had rolled by I was eager for it to end, which is never a good feeling.
A middle-aged mezzo seemed to have the only solos with any sense of activity or spark. We could have used more of that. There was a scene with all of the men singing, another later with all of the women. These gave a much-needed change in texture.
There were three skinny blond boys in the cast, they appeared to be brothers and maybe 7, 10, and 13 years old. They were adorable, tossing a beach ball around. The best part of the show was the Staffordshire terrier, such a sweet dog. I wanted the dog to bark, but it never did.
On a side note, when I go see a show at BAM alone I always get dinner at the Subway at the Atlantic Terminal Mall. Due to COVID, there was no seating in the Subway, so I bought my sandwich, chips, and soda and thought I'd find a bench or similar in the mall where I could sit down and eat. No benches. I took the escalator up one level to see if there was anything there, no luck. I took the escalator up to the top level and while I wouldn't say I hit pay dirt, I did find a solution: I ate my dinner outside of Chuck E. Cheese. I was able to put my Cool Ranch Doritos and Sprite with a splash of Dr. Pepper on a windowsill and ate my six-inch Spicy Italian sub standing up. This is the new world order.