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NYC REVIEW: Adoration, Myths, and Reality (PROTOTYPE FESTIVAL)

Tenor Omar Najmi stars in the opera Adoration at the PROTOTYPE Festival in New York City. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Prejudice, love, collective judgment, and the uncertainty of truth. These are some of the major threads woven into Adoration, a new opera by Mary Kouyoumdjian and Royce Vavrek that premiered at New York City’s PROTOTYPE Festival last night. The marriage of music, text, sonic effects, and video reframing pushes audiences to question what is real, what is deceit, and what glimmers of truth we can glean from the world – or think that we have gleaned.

If this sounds disorienting, that is exactly one of the opera’s central conceits – one shared with its source material, the eponymous 2008 film by Atom Egoyan. (No prior viewing is required to enjoy the opera.) As events and persons are revisited, the initial impressions blur and then melt away like wax statues in a slowly heating oven. This sense of ongoing framing and reframing is enhanced in the direction by Laine Rettmer, which knits together diverse elements to constantly tease and play with impressions, as set pieces rotate and cameras insert charming and disturbing intimacies.

Soprano Miriam Khalil stands amidst the falling snow on the set of Adoration, at the annual PROTOTYPE Festival of new music-theatre works produced by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE Productions. Photo by Maria Baranova.

There are some rougher patches. Perhaps abetted by the extensive use of amplification, the vocal score frequently jumps between spoken and sung dialogue, which creates some recurring audibility issues and distracts more than it enhances. Vavrek’s libretto would make an excellent spoken play, but when set to music is unnecessarily verbose. Kouyoumdjian’s score as a whole is sumptuous, filled with vibrant musical color, and has little need for the numerous repetitions of dialogue. Less would be more, and create more space to enjoy the evocative soundscape traced in the weaving instrumental lines.

The philosopher John Dewey observed, “Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire” – a major theme in Adoration, which also remolds audience understanding using a mixture of prerecorded and live video, projected in counterpoint to the musical and dramatic action onstage. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Amongst the cast, soprano Miriam Khalil is a standout, with several scenes that haunt the audience; Broadway actor Marc Kudisch also gives a particularly notable performance. Strong performances by baritone David Adam Moore and tenor Omar Najmi anchor the ensemble.

Whatever its aesthetics, Adoration delves deeply into several threads that are sure to have audiences talking afterwards – the secrets that we carry, the myths that we (re)write, and the instinctive and collective reactions that we both embrace and deny. That’s not a bad combo to ponder amongst friends and strangers, suffused by gorgeous music.

A production photo from Adoration. The annual PROTOTYPE Festival, now celebrating its 11th anniversary, has become one of New York City’s hottest winter arts events. Photo by Maria Baranova.

Adoration runs through January 20 at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in New York, NY.

Basil Considine