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May 17, 2011

Angel of the Amazon: A New Music Drama

Evan Mack's Angel of the Amazon is running in its world premiere at New York City's Jerome Robbins Theater at Baryshnikov Arts Center until May 22, 2011. The Dresser caught this energetic new music drama under the baton of Mara Waldman on May 15 in this 13-performance production by Encompass New Opera Theatre.

Killing3.jpgRemarkably for such a dark story concerning the assassination of the American missionary, Sister Dorothy Stang, the music soars into the body and uplifts the listener's spirit. Director Nancy Rhodes has out done herself with an exceptionally talented cast and a finely coordinated collaboration between her directing skills and her selected design artists--John Michael Deegan & Sarah Conly (scenery, projections, lighting) and Angela Huff (costumes). This collaboration has produced a mise en scene that tracks like one finely composed painting after another.

The story opens on the day Sister Dorothy (mezzo Caitlin Mathes) is murdered by two hired guns sent by Vito (tenor Adam Russell), a disgruntled owner of a logging company. The history of the sister's work with the poor who are now farming land that once belonged to Vito's father is then told in various out-of-sequence periods of time identified by text projections. This aspect of jumping around in time is the weakest part of the overall work.

Standout performers for this production are Caitlin Mathes who fills the small stage with powerful light when she sings (she makes a very credible religious leader) and José Rubio as Luiz, the leader of the poor farmers who are desperately trying to eek out a living on land that does not always get enough rain. LuizWithGun.jpgRubio's acting is also equal to his singing. Near the end of the opera, Rubio as Luiz reacts to Sister Dorothy's admonishment that his gun will get him killed. First he is enraged that the sister "questions his heart, his dream." To the Dresser, the character of Luiz is drawn quite realistically. In the past, Vito's men have set fire to Luiz's village as well as kidnapped and beaten various farmers, so there is no reason to think that turning the other cheek would ever work with Vito's thugs. However, this aria also shows Luiz mellowing to the good work by the Sister as Luiz celebrates how the idealistic but fearless and hardworking missionary believes in Luiz and his people.

Hope.jpgThe all-cast number entitled "The Brazilian Farmer's Song," which is sung in Portuguese (and is the only number not in English) is the most colorful piece of the show. It achieves this both in its musical syncopation, dancing, and its projections of the lush Amazon forest along with the strong colors of the players' costumes. This music also is reprised at the end of Luiz soliloquy about Sister Dorothy and there is an effective use of a screen lit from behind that shows Luiz's compadres filing by as they go to work in the fields.

Other notable special effects included the fire that burns down Luiz's village and torrential rain that seemed would not only flood the village but also the first few rows of audience seating. While the Dresser never felt wet, the projected rain seemed so real she kept thinking she should dig out her umbrella and use it.

In a confrontation with her bishop over loggers decimating the land her community is trying to redeem, Sister Dorothy tells the bishop, "Kill a tree, kill a person." SisterMtg.jpgLyubomir Nikolov's poem "Fire" captures the intensity of the Sister's feeling for the Amazon forest and the people who lived on that land.


No matter how you lay it on the fire
wood is beautiful
when it burns.

Alone, it is still beautiful.

But I like the brotherhood of twigs, logs, leaves.

I like the fire to remind me of the tree
before the ax stripped it.

And as in some strange camera obscura
where nature is reversed,
I see the tree replenish itself in the flames.

Down below, in the ashes, shine leaves.
Up from them grow the branches,
then the trunk,
and roots glide out through the chimney
to stroll among the onrushing clouds.

by Lyubomir Nikolov
translated from the Bulgarian by Jane Cooper
published in Cabin Fever: Poets at Joaquin Miller's Cabin, 1984-2001
edited by Jacklyn Potter, Dwaine Rieves, Gary Stein

Copyright © 2003 Lyubomir Nikolov

May 29, 2011

On the Beat Trail with Bill Morgan

BeatAtlas2.jpgSummer travel in the United States? The Dresser has the guidebook for you, whether you can afford the gas for a car or not--Beat Atlas: A State by State Guide to the Beat Generation in America by Bill Morgan. This handy book in glossy cover measuring 8.5 X 4.5 inches definitely puts the fun in funky. Take this tidbit from the section on Baltimore, Maryland. You can call this fun fact: why Jack Kerouac never got a driver's license:


"After getting lost somewhere along U. S. Route 1 on one of their On the Road trips, Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac reached the outskirts of Baltimore. There Neal insisted that Jack take the wheel and make his way through the heavy rush-hour traffic... except Neal and his wife LuAnne insisted on steering while Jack operated the pedals. Adding to the excitement, Neal turned up the radio volume to the maximum and beat on the dashboard of the Hudson Hornet as if it were a drum set." [p. 131 and the Dresser repeats Morgan's bolding of the prominent Beat figures and the road name]

If, Dear Reader, you don't know who Neal Cassady was, there are 45 citations in the index to help you discover the man Jack Kerouac immortalized as Dean Moriarty in the novel On the Road. Eeny meany miny mo, try page 58 in the New Jersey section which tells how Cassady "married his third wife, model Diana Hansen, in Newark's City Hall at 920 Broad Street on July 10, 1950." Allen Ginsberg was one of their three witnesses but only two hours later, Cassady "went back on the road to San Francisco, where his second wife, Carolyn, was waiting for him." Yes, Cassady was a bigamist, but he got Diana pregnant and wanted to do the right thing. Pages 74-75 New York (North Tarrytown) explain how Cassady told Diana that he would spend six months in New York with her and six months with Carolyn.

Did the Dresser mention that Cassady's first marriage to a 15-year old LuAnne Henderson [see page 109, Nebraska section] was annulled? Give a guy a break! He was just out of a Denver prison, that's the town where they were married. Then they went to Sidney, Nebraska, to stay with LuAnne's aunt and uncle. When picking potatoes, washing dishes for a restaurant, and cleaning house for a wealthy lawyer didn't work out, LuAnne stole $300 from the lawyer and Cassady stole a car from LuAnne's uncle to make their way to North Platte where they ditched the car, hopped on a New York City-bound bus and there in the City That Does Not Sleep, they met for the first time Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.


Morgan's geographically comprehensive guide, published by City Lights Books, includes short vignettes in Alaska and Hawaii. In the sub-section Arctic Ocean of the Alaska section, Allen Ginsberg is depicted as the yeoman aboard a freighter that brought provisions to the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line along the northern coast of Alaska. "On July 27 [1956] he passed through the Bering Straight and anchored off Icy Cape. In memory of Naomi, his Russian-born mother, who had died a few weeks earlier, he tossed some coins from the deck as his ship, the USNS Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton, passed within a few miles of Russia's coast." [pp. 238-239]

Included with this anecdote is an alluring snapshot (looks like the kind taken in self-photo booth) of a young Ginsberg sporting a black sailor's beret on his neatly groomed black hair (standard man's haircut) and wearing white undershirt. With eyes opened wide behind his oval shaped glasses and petulant full lips, he looks off to one side as if a commanding officer had called him to attention.


And who is that man on the book's cover? -A young William Burroughs, photo by Allen Ginsberg! The guidebook contains numerous photos shot by Ginsberg and since Morgan has written other books on and about Ginsberg, (including I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg), Beat Atlas has many juicy morsels about the man who woke up the world to the Beat Generation when his poem Howl and his City Lights Books publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti were taken to court in San Francisco. However, if you want to know all the details about the Beats in San Francisco, page 229 provides only a list of five places to visit (City Lights Bookstore, Cassady's house, Ginsberg's apartment, Ferlinghetti's apartment, and Six Gallery). For the rest, Morgan says refer to his book The Beat Generation in San Francisco.


If you think you might get bored reading about the decadent Beats, Morgan has covered that too by including such folks as Truman Capote [see p. 153 Alabama section subsection Monroeville] who, according to Morgan, "will be forever linked with the Beats by an insulting quip he made about Kerouac's Road book on David Susskin's TV show 'Open End.' 'It isn't writing at all, it's typing.'"

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