With the dawn of the new century less than a year away, Lincoln Center, by announcing of its New Visions series, is already using novel ways of looking at classical art structures to usher in the next millennium.
The plan is simple. Take a classical piece of music -- a Bach or such -- and commission a contemporary director, designer or choreographer to find a bold way of re-viewing the piece. But the hitch is this: not just changing the setting of a piece to make it more "relevant" to an audience (e.g., setting Macbeth in, say, war-torn Iraq) but finding inherent themes to the pieces and, like a jazz musician, riffing off them.
For New Visions, an off-shoot of Lincoln Center's acclaimed "Great Performers" series, five stagings are occurring over the course of five months.
Next up: Canadian director/designer Robert Lepage (Elsinore, Seven Streams of the River Ota) collaborates with soprano Rebecca Blankenship on Gustave Mahler's song cycle, Kindertotenlieder, Feb. 18, 19 & 20. In creating Kindertotenlieder, Mahler was using texts by 19th century German poet Friedrich Ruckert, who was writing about the deaths of his two young children. Mahler's own daughter died two years after he wrote the song cycle.
Lepage's version tells of a pregant opera singer embarking on a concert of the song cycle -- while worrying about her unborn child. Soprano Blankenship told ClassicalMusic magazine, "We wanted to find ways to break down conventional barriers and explore the emotional heart of the piece... What one gets is a personal quest narrative; and as a quest, the cycle actually cries out to be explored and animated."
The series began Jan. 15 & 16 with John Kelly & Sally Rothenberg's Moondrunk, combining chamber music, dance, a shadow play and other theatrical elements with composer Schoenberg's expressionistic "Pierrot Lunaire" as its centerpiece. The New Visions series continued Jan. 28-30, 1999 with Beowulf, a half sung, half-spoken evocation of the epic poem by early-music specialist Benjamin Bagby.
Classic opera revisionist Peter Sellars was scheduled to present Bach's Cantatas Nos. 199, 170, and 82, with mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt in March, but that production has been cancelled, according to a Great Performers series spokesperson (Feb. 16).
Rounding out the season will be opera diva Jessye Norman (Robert Wilson's Alceste) and choreographer/dancer/director Bill T. Jones, creating How! Do! We! Do!, which includes selections by Schubert, Berlioz, Mozart, along with American spirituals, May 22 & 25, 1999.
For tickets ($20 - $50), or more information, call the "Great Performers at Lincoln Center" Hotline at (212) 875-5937.
-- By Sean McGrath and David Lefkowitz