It took Carson Kievman almost 30 years to bring Intelligent Systems – The Surrender of Self in Mystical Contemplation to the light of day. Originally commissioned by the prestigious Donaueschingen Music Festival, Kievman’s story is one of transformation through chaos, the composer patiently for technology to catch up with the visions in his head. Experienced in the intimate environs of SoBe Arts black box theater, Intelligent Systems is an ambitious and well-executed piece of experimental operatic theater with elements of lyrical music, and steampunk paranoia.
Bold and full of bravado, Intelligent Systems maps the cyclical journey of nature before and after mankind’s reign and illustrates the lesson of how water enters stone: through perseverance. Kievman’s work is remarkably accurate for our times as a fairy tale of nature’s way in collusion with mankind’s will; what nature manages to create through chaos in billions of years, man manages to destroy in a matter of centuries. Think of this as the explanation for global warming and climate change for the video game generation.
Through the use of projections, a 14-piece orchestra, sound manipulations, props and a versatile six-person cast, Intelligent Systems illustrates the beginning and end of a parallel universe by emulating the chaos it represents. It begins with placement, the audience in the middle facing the stage with the musicians and assorted prop masters behind and around; projections convert the room into the cabin of a spacecraft and are “launched” into space for travel to a parallel dimension where the universe is forming through a series of globally-impacting events.
Kievman’s ambitious vision owes a lot to advancements in technology, that’s for sure, but it owes an even bigger one to the six-person ensemble that does multiple duties as singers, actors, narrators, prop handlers, stagehands and costuming assistance. It wouldn’t have been surprising had one entered the room during intermission to reorient the lighting. At risk of damaging the precarious line between explanation and outright confusion, Kievman placed the libretto in their hands while stage director Jeffrey Buchman plotted a seamless course for them to exist in.
It would be futile to explain the plot, Intelligent Systems is the type of experimental piece that can exist in varied forms. In our preview conversation with Kievman, I used the “dimensions variable” tag for the production and after witnessing it, I’m resolute in my belief that he’s got himself what could very well be a travelling orchestral that will not require exact measurements and/or excessive budgets – provided that he can land as versatile a cast as he currently has.
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It would be easier to break down the five scenes for vocal effect but doing so would render a read far longer than the actual hour and a half of Intelligent Systems. Sopranos Danielle Buonaiuto, Nathalie Avila and Zaray Rodriguez brought acting and pacing to their numerous roles as well as controlled range given the space. David Robinson, heard throughout but largely unseen, by comparison was a perfect anchor for the younger Eric McConnell and Timothy Stoddard, both turning in solid performances in their roles, bringing an adequate amount of emotive disdain for the despots they portrayed.
Mary Kauffman’s musical direction harnessed the discordant cacophony of Creation while making allowances for lyrical interludes amidst the chaos. The 14-piece orchestra, multi-national in its makeup, is an unintended extra for the story’s morale of human strife – on stage nations and class structures can’t get along, but behind the audience, instruments in hand, they create together. Intelligent Systems is the closing work for SoBe Arts at their current location and is a fully realized musical theater contemplation on man’s involvement in accelerating nature’s course. Water will enter stone through perseverance, man would rather invent a speedier manner. Regardless of which, nature will, in the end, have her way. Kievman understands that as he waited patiently, for over 30 years, to show you so.
Carson Kievman’s Intelligent Systems – The Surrender of Self in Mystical Contemplation at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, June 12 and 13 and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 14 at SoBe Arts Institute in Miami Beach. Tickets cost $15-25, free parking. Call 305-674-9220 or visit sobearts.org.