FAWN Chamber Creative’s latest project is an opera called The Harvester. The libretto is adapted by Paul van Dyck from his own play of the same name and the music is by Aaron Gervais. The genesis (and we’ll come back to that) of the piece lies in the mind of soprano Stacie Dunlop who wanted a reduced orchestration version of Schoenberg’s Erwartung and a one acter that could be performed with the same band to form a double bill with it. Van Dyck’s play seemed to have the right stuff and Aaron was up for both parts of the project. Co-opting Kevin Mallon and his Aradia Ensemble and Amanda Smith to direct rounded out the project.
The team is taking a similar, incremental, approach to working up the piece that was seen with Adam Scime’s L’homme et le ciel. Right now there’s a complete draft libretto and piano score and that’s what we saw last night. Next year should see workshops of the fully orchestrated and revised version with full production in 2018. I like this process. It’s closer to how Broadway prepares work for the stage than the conventional big opera house approach which is basically to engage a big name team, give them a big cheque and five years and hope that what comes back is stageable.
The Harvester is a sci-fi, future dystopia piece that also draws inspiration from the story of Lot and the Cities of the Plain in Genesis. Humanity has discovered a substance, Time, that stops aging and leads to world peace and universal happidom until population growth outstrips Time production (Hiya Mr. Malthus) and which point Armageddon happens and the world is converted to a thinly populated desert with the few survivors harvesting what Time can still be had. One of these is The Man; one of two human characters we meet (there’s also a somewhat anthropopsychic computer in best Holly or HAL tradition. He lost his wife and daughter twenty years before and somehow keeps going with only the computer as companion. The only “remnant” of either that he has is his daughter’s hand preserved in a jar of Time.
One day he discovers that one of his machines is producing the opposite of Time and shortly after a woman arrives at his lair. She bears a marked resemblance to his wife and, though I initially missed this, has a heavily bandaged thing where her hand ought to be. Fiend or foe? Human or automaton? The Man doesn’t know but soon comes to believe it is his wife and they make love but it’s the one handed daughter doing what Lot’s daughters did (*). She believes that the Earth can only be regenerated by getting rid of Time and this is her way. She departs with her hand leaving the Man to end things with the contaminated anti-Time.
It works as an opera. It has the necessary archetypal straightforwardness. The music goes beyond movie soundtrack. In particular there’s a genuinely operatic duet for the climactic confrontation between The Man and the daughter. The only snag here is that it’s operatic enough to make the words hard to catch at a dramatically critical moment. Surtitles and/or more textual repetition might help here. The rest of the time the text was easily understood. So, maybe needs tweaks and could even use a little more emotional development (it’s very short as it currently stands) but very promising and I shall look forward to the next iteration.
The production and performances were really good within the confines of what could be improvised from existing stuff and given the limitations of Gallery 345 as a performance space. Alexander Dobson was solid and affecting as The Man, who comes over as a slightly bemused Everyman, a good foil for the more ambiguous female part very well realised by Stacie Dunlop. Inevitably given the subject matter the production had a few B movie moments. Dismembered body parts in green fluid will do that but anyway I think that’s almost part of the cultural frame of reference here. Katherine Dowling managed the always tricky job of making piano accompaniment sound like more than it is.
The Harvester is one to watch out for.
(*)30 And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.
31 And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:
32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
34 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.
37 And the first born bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.
38 And the younger, she also bare a son, and called his name Benammi: the same is the father of the children of Ammon unto this day.