It’s easy to think of opera as some relic of a by-gone era, festooned with silken gowns and set in cavernous, gold-leafed theaters. But at its heart, opera is very much a timeless performance. On Tuesday, Feb. 12, the Kansas City Art Institute hosted the “Art Sounds Collaboration,” a performance of two short modern chamber operas, “Pondery” and “Numera.”
“Pondery,” created by Nihan Yesil, was a quandary of an opera. It opened with a projection of the moon displayed on a large sheet that filled the entire stage space. In front of it laid a sleeping girl coated in soft blue light. A brief and keenly operatic dialogue between the girl, Lily and her mother followed. Once Lily returned to slumber, the house lights dimmed and Lily began to dream.
The performance then suddenly took an incredible shift as it became a life-sized shadow play. A physical human Lily disappeared, and was replaced with a shadow Lily on the illuminated sheet. Confused and disoriented, physical Lily wandered the space until she was confronted by two figures: a tall, gaunt, well-dressed man (Will), and a shorter young woman with a long braid and a postman’s hat (Addie).
Will and Addie, two beguiling and contemplative individuals, spoke in riddles as they led Lily closer and closer to realizing her dreams. At times the audience was as confused as Lily was, or even more so. At one point, Will and Addie carried on singing by simply saying “think” over and over again for almost two minutes.
The operatic dialogue was only half of the performance’s strength. The actors use a variety of props and gestures to convey the scenery and tone. Another sharp transition leads them into a perceived nightmare as “Loon de Tique” enters dressed in a cape and crown shouting gibberish, only to let Lily escape to her bed and wake up enlightened.
Ryan Oldham, an adjunct assistant professor of composition, music theory and musicology, created the second opera, “Numera.” It subtracted something from the communication of performance and audience in a different way . The story revolved around two shapes, Triangle and Square, who lived content lives. Triangle cared for a flower garden and Square made walls out of boxes. Their unified life was interrupted when Circle entered. Both Triangle and Square pined after her [Circle], and after both declaring their love to her, Circle chose Square, leaving Triangle wallowing in despair.
While the story appeared simple, the way in which it was communicated was very complex. No words were sung, only numbers. The plot was shown through the gestures of the performers as well as various shapes and symbols, which were projected onstage.
Both performances were great examples of experimental theater. Brimming with imaginative visuals, they carried simple storylines to new heights of creative expression.