Forty-eight hours before the curtain rises, director James Danner, assistant director Déa Julien, and production designer Rachel Libeskind take a short break at the Bas Fisher Invitational (BFI).
They've been at the artist-run space, nestled among culturally disparate downtown locales such as Club Space and Museum Park, since Thursday, making and rearranging set pieces and creating the right ambiance and decor. In the background, actress/vocalist Jacquelyn Stucker warms up with pianist Matthew Odell while Danner, Julien, and Libeskind call from the set of their production La Voix Humaine.
BFI, in conjunction with the Knight Foundation, Culturadora, and Amanda + James, brings a reimagined version of this one-act, one-woman opera to Miami February 18, 20, and 21.
A semiautobiographical opera by Francis Poulenc that's based on a play by Jean Cocteau, the work is a musical tragedy that details a woman's last telephone call with her ex-lover. Its salacious plot is one of lies, overdoses, and a possible suicide. Libeskind, the set designer, offers insight into the plot. "Like any great literary work that's ever been written, it transcends time," she says. "It's an intense experience to watch somebody on the phone. You never hear the other voice on the phone."
Just one month after its New York run in May 2014, the Knight Foundation offered to bring the five-person team to Miami for a string of performances. They flew down to scout locations in October and December. By Sunday, the entire team had reunited in Miami to ready themselves for these three shows.
"What's really arrested me about this piece -- as we've been doing it now in a much less traditional and much more conceptual and flexible environment -- has been the sad truth of the mediation of digital communication," Danner says. "We're talking on a cell phone. We're emailing on a cell phone. We text people who we love. We don't see people as much as we maybe would have before the technology was developed. It's really fascinating that this story that was born almost 100 years ago is about a woman who is always on the phone and having a breakdown over the phone. It's the phone that illuminates this moment for her. I feel like everyone our age has been there."
And because Danner, Julien, and Libeskind are all young artists, they have a personal interest in making this decades-old story relevant for contemporary audiences.They've reduced the music -- originally scored for a small orchestra -- to a lone piano. Additionally, they've adapted the set installation for the particulars of BFI's space and tweaked the context of the opera to appeal to Miamians.
"There aren't really that many 20-something-year-olds putting on opera in Miami," Libeskind says before Danner interrupts: "Or in New York!"
"I think it was important to us to put a skin on it that works in the context of Miami," Libeskind adds, "but also in the context that we want as 20-somethings doing a very serious opera work without taking ourselves too seriously."
Continues Julien: "I think that contemporary audiences can really relate to relationships that are challenging, different, murky, tenuous, and ones that don't necessarily have definition in the way that traditional romantic relationships did or were portrayed. The contemporary nature of the story with the beauty of the music was really interesting to us."
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