Japan Society Presents First Full Staging of Partch's Opera Delusion of the Fury Since 1969

Classic Arts News   Japan Society Presents First Full Staging of Partch's Opera Delusion of the Fury Since 1969
There must be some poetic justice in here: Beginning tonight, a performing arts series named for the one hit by a one-hit-wonder New Wave band is culminating in an opera by a one-time hobo.

The theme of the fall 2007 performing arts season at the Japan Society is "Turning Japanese," a "celebrat[ion] ... of American artists who are fascinated and inspired by Japan and its culture, and the imagination of Japanese performing arts."

This week's grand finale to "Turning Japanese" is a restaging of the music-theater magnum opus by the ultimate "American Maverick" composer, Harry Partch.

A genuine wild-eyed visionary, Partch (1901-1974) played piano for silent movies, dropped out of college, wrote fugues on a Hawaiian beach, rode the rails as a hobo specifically to collect musical material, re-divided the octave, created his own instrumentarium, tried to re-invent music-theater, and was (of course) notoriously difficult to work with.

Delusion of the Fury (1969) is Patch's largest-scale piece. Inspired in large part by Japan's ritualistic Noh drama (which the composer never actually saw, it seems), Delusion takes its story line from two Noh plays and an Ethiopian folktale, though it largely abandons text in favor of various vocalizations and nonsense syllables which Partch found more expressive than sung words.

The opera (as good a word as any for the piece) requires ten actors and four singers who must memorize all those syllables and sounds, as well as a set of instrumentalists who must not only take part in the action but also manage two dozen of Partch's own custom-made instruments (see photos below). And those instruments must be transported from their home at Montclair State University in New Jersey to wherever a performance is taking place.

Even though Delusion of the Fury has legendary status among its composer's fans, with all those logistical requirements (not to mention the forbidding reputation Partch's music has in some quarters), it's not so surprising that the Japan Society's production is the first full staging the work has had since its 1969 world premiere in Los Angeles. Neither is it surprising, that being the case, that this week's run of the piece is sold out.

Downtown theater fixture (and MacArthur Fellow) John Jesurun is the stage director and designer for this revival, with Dawn Akemi Saito providing choreography. The music director is Dean Drummond — director of the Harry Partch Institute and Instrumentarium as well as a member of Delusion's original cast.

Delusion of the Fury has four performances: tonight and Thursday through Saturday (Dec. 6-8), all at 7:30 p.m., at the Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street (near First Avenue) in Manhattan. The waiting list to purchase unclaimed tickets be start one hour before curtain time.

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