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Guerillas Let There Be Light


Adam Roberts (file photo)
Adam Roberts (file photo)

It has been six years since Guerilla Opera began its admirable mission to present “exciting and progressive new music highlighting musical virtuosity, intimate venue, dramatic risk, and direct communication between performers without the use of a conductor.” Since then, they have presented seven operas to critical acclaim and are establishing a national reputation for performing cutting edge works in innovative and parsimonious staging. With their newest production of Adam Roberts’ The Giver of Light, running this weekend and next at The Zach Box Theatre at The Boston Conservatory, it looks as though they will continue this tradition.

The chamber opera in two acts is inspired by the epiphany of Rumi, a 13th-century Islamic jurist and madrassa teacher whose encounter with “Shams” (a Persian poet and philosopher) led Rumi into a new life as an ascetic mystic and poet. As a result of this encounter Rumi went on to write nearly 66,000 verses of quatrains and odes as well as prose works—a body of work that forms the basis of much classical Iranian and Afghan music. Roberts adapts this story to the present-day American Midwest, exploring “our various assumptions about what love is, who it can be between and how intimately linked it is to sexuality.”

Roberts studied composition at Harvard University (Ph.D.) and the University for Performing Art and Music in Vienna (Postgraduate Diploma). Rudolf Rojahn, founding member of Guerilla Opera and composer of several of their productions, has described the composer’s music as having “…both a foreignness and familiarity” characterized by layered textures and timbre manipulation. This jibes well with the excerpts located on his website (here). The music is intense and thought provoking, which should translate well in this production’s small ensemble of four instrumentalists and four singers.

Stage Director Andrew Eggert characterizes the piece as renegotiating “the line between contemporary art and ritual” in which the “entire ensemble functions as a chorus in the traditions of the ancient theater, commenting upon and manipulating the action.” Eggert has previously directed for the Boston Lyric’s Opera Annex as well as for Chicago Opera Theater and Opera Omaha where, in staging Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle, he sought to create a “visual vocabulary that would do justice to Bartok’s music, which is so expressive.” For this work he seems interested in the way it toggles “between the way we live day to day on the artificial “surface” of our lives and the hidden “depth” of our inner worlds.” How this is visualized will rely on Julia Noulin-Merat’s scenic design, which she describes as a “museum like world that allows the characters to exist” and includes a “very special effect for when two of the characters reach “enlightenment.” Somehow in this suburban setting she has managed to combine influences of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Arabic calligraphy.

Productions of Guerilla Opera often involve the audience. For 2010 production of the Heart of a Dog the audience walked with the cast, guided by a Carnival Barker. One would imagine that the audience’s experience for this production will be nearly as thrilling. However, if you can’t make it or would just like to preview the production, opening night is being live streamed here for free.

Rehearsal Image (Stephanie J. Patalano photo)
Rehearsal Image (Stephanie J. Patalano photo)


Jonas Budris, tenor (John)
Brian Church, baritone (Darren)
Aliana de la Guardia, soprano (Elena/Mean Kid)**
Jennifer Ashe, soprano (Susan/Brian)
Amy Advocat, clarinets
Javier Caballero, cello
Kent O’Doherty, saxophones **
Mike Williams, percussion **

(** indicates Guerilla Opera company members)

Music & Libretto by Adam Roberts; Stage Directed by Andrew Eggert
Scenic Design by Julia Noulin-Merat **; Lighting Design by Tláloc López-Watermann **
Costume Design by Neil Fortin; Props Design by Anita Shriver

$15/$10/Free to students with Valid I.D.
Purchase online here or call The Boston Conservatory Box Office at (617) 912-9222.

Joseph E. Morgan is a PhD graduate of Brandeis University, where he studied early German romantic opera. He lives and teaches in the Boston area.

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