Arts & Ideas Diary Day 4: What Happened Wednesday, June 19

Midweek at Arts & Ideas offers live shows by bands (generally locally based) on New Haven Green, but not for the throngs which come out for the weekends. The excitement is largely indoors at the theater performances.

I saw The Quiet Volume, a text-heavy interactive performance piece which the festival is presenting at the Beinecke Library reading room through June 28. I reviewed it at length in my New Haven Theater Jerk blog, here.

Seeing The Quiet Volume on a weekday afternoon is similar to, you know, sitting in a library on a weekday afternoon, which is of course a very popular pastime in a college town.. But it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like leisurely guided self-exploration. You might chafe or glaze over, as I did, in the throes of all the prompts and direct orders given you over the iPad headphones in this precise prerecorded piece, but it will make you think about what—and how—you read, in ways you don’t see coming.

At night, I was present at the world premiere of a new chamber opera, My Friend’s Story, by some very distinguished yet modernist and down-to-earth Yale profs: composer Martin Bresnick (pictured in the photo alongside this article), writer J.D. McClatchy and director David Chamber. This was a triumphant performance—fresh and sharp and easy to follow. Bresnick’s score shifts from jazz to neo-musicky to melodic without any jarring transitions. The eclecticism suits the tense realities and romantic dreams of the show’s characters. My Friend’s Story is based on a Chekhov short story called “Terror,” and it concerns very common fears about getting about in society and in life, and how we relate to our friends and neighbors. Just as Chekhov finds suspense and irony in everyday life, Bresnick and McClatchy and Chambers find the high drama and operatic grandeur in a simply told relationship story. The cast—Ryan Allen, Claire Cooolen, Jonathan Hays, Abigail Nimes and Christian Reinert—understand the creative team’s desire to build the piece from a believable base into a stirring, transcendent emotional outpouring. The opera doesn’t just succeed on its own terms, it’s economically produced—five singers, seven musicians, a simple and effective backdrop of windows for a set and costumes which are basically streetclothes. Expect this riveting new work to be produced elsewhere in the future—that’s not something you can safely predict about a lot of new operatic works.

All A&I info is at www.artidea.org

I'm also blogging about the festival daily at my own New Haven Theater Jerk page, here.