A Climate Opera Arrival in New York with 21 Tons of Sand

One rainy morning last week, a beach came up at the front door of a theater in Brooklyn.

Or at least one raw material for: 21 tons of sand, packed in 50-pound bags, 840 of them. Pushcart dolls wheeled into BAM fissures were inexplicably dropped on the tarp-covered floor of the theatre, with a lethargic sigh.

Once opened and spread around, the sands will form the foundation for “Sun and Sea (Marina)”, an installation-like opera that won the top prize at the Venice Biennale in 2019. Emerged as a masterpiece for the era of climate change. Neither didactic nor abstract, it is an insidiously pleasant mosaic of consumption, globalization and ecological crisis. And its next stop is the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where it opens on wednesday and runs until 26 September.

“The way it presents its ideas, it is absolutely amazing,” said David Binder, artistic director of BAM. “It disarms you and tempts you. This is not the way we get to work going about the issues of our day – we are all facing fires and floods this summer and what we did for the planet Is. “

For the work’s creators – Ragail Barzdzukait, Viva Granite and Lena Lapelite – “Sun and Sea” is a welcome addition, only their second collaboration, the story of Cinderella, as they said in a recent video interview. But as much as it is a fairy tale, the work is the fruit of a friendship that began in the Lithuanian city where they all grew up.

Barzdziukaite eventually became a director; Granite, a writer; Laplight, a musical artist. In working together, they were attracted to opera, he said, as it provided “a meeting place” for their individual practices. As a trio, Granite said, “we can listen to each other and dive into the process without fighting or behaving arrogantly.”

His first project was “Have a Good Day!” who was traveled to new york For the prototype festival in 2014. Like “Sun & Sea” it approached its subject – the idea of ​​supermarket cashiers, and cycles of consumption – with a light touch. A cast of 10 singers, all women, to develop an exclusive store in Lithuania, shared stories that were mesmerizing until, in their accumulation, they acknowledged the photographer’s excesses Similar theme by Andreas Gursky “99 cents.”

“The idea was to have this zoomed-in approach using micro-narratives,” Granite said, “but is also aware that we are also concerned with this part of buying and selling circles.”

It was important to the three creators that, while scathingly ironic, “Have a nice day!” was not political. “We really tried to avoid ‘a truth’ because it’s never black and white,” Lapelte said. “The same thing happens with ‘Sun and Sea.’ When we talk about the climate crisis, it never comes with a vision.”

“Sun and Sea” is more ambitious: still subtle, intimate and haunting, but sprawling across a wide spectrum. From a single piece of sand, Barzdziukite, Granite and Lapalite make a wide range of effects. The beach is, after all, a battleground of the Anthropocene that embraces and opposes nature. It’s a destination deemed worth flying around the world to exhale tons of carbon, just to have fun—though not without a hefty dose of sunscreen to avoid burns, or worse.

in characters Granite’s Libretto, who is both plain-spoken and poetic, self-righteously against the intrusion of technology into their lives and welcoming it, is overworked and over-travelled. Their stories are told as monologues and vignettes, broken by a chorus of horrifying stillness.

Often, the characters are oblivious. “What a relief that the Great Barrier Reef has a restaurant and hotel!” A woman sings. “We sat down to sip our pia coladas—price included! They taste better under water, just a heaven!” Her husband seems unaware that his burnout is not so isolated from the earth, as he sighs sweetly, “Suppressed negativity finds its way out unexpectedly like lava.”

Some characters find beauty in the horrors of modern life. “The banana comes into existence, ripens somewhere in South America, and then it ends up on the other side of the planet, far from home,” sings one. “It existed to satisfy our hunger in just one bite, to give us a sense of joy.”

Another, in the opera’s most unforgettable image, sees:

Rose colored clothes flutter:
Jellyfish dance together in pairs
with emerald colored bags,
bottles and red bottle caps.

O the sea never had so much color!

“We didn’t want to be too declarative,” Barzdzukait said. “At some point, Vaiva was removing all words that dealt directly with ecological issues.” The final work was about half of what was written.

What they didn’t want was to give the impression that they were climate activists. “It would be unfair to say that,” Granite said. “If we were workers, we wouldn’t be making this work that’s going around the world.” (Production isn’t the most eco-friendly: For the BAM presentation, all that sand was transported by truck from Volleyball USA in New Jersey to Brooklyn.)

But this does not mean that “Sun&Sea” eschews responsibility by design. Political art is a spectrum, and its creators know they are wrestling with cumbersome and urgent subjects; They want their opera to be “active”, as Lapelte put it.

Critical to that effect are, beyond the text, the music and the visual presentation. electronic score – earworm after earworm – Provides minimal accompaniment for singers, and was written to reflect ease of leisure.

“We wanted it to be poppy enough, that it would remind you of a song you know well but you can’t say,” Lapelte said. “And at the same time it’s reduced to very low notes, and it’s also repetitive like a pop song.”

The action, while largely improvised by volunteers who round out the cast, is managed obsessively by Barzdzukite. Participants are asked to come dressed in specific colors (mostly cool pastels). While the roughly hour-long opera is sung in a loop, they are instructed not to act, nor to accept audiences. For artists, the experience should be no different than a trip to the beach.

“We are using this documentary approach in pretty much every aspect,” Barzdzukait said. Audience audience members can notice how casually the plastic fills the space; A pair of partially buried headphones, or a few abandoned toys, will be familiar sights.

In Venice, visitors leave the “Sun and Sea” to encounter countless cheap souvenirs and giant cruise ships. When the race was over, the city was flooded. There will also be heavy rain before the piece’s arrival in Brooklyn, with the storm carrying the remnants of Hurricane Ida. killed more than 40 people New York and three neighboring states. None of this is lost on the creators, who find themselves wrestling to create subtle art in a world whose natural disasters increasingly heave agitprop.

“I feel like I’m living in a dissonance and asking myself what’s next and how should I behave,” Granite said.

Those who participate in BAM production may find themselves asking similar questions. They won’t look at the crowded tchotchkes in the shops of Venice, but perhaps on the way home they’ll take another look at the trash on the subway tracks or on the shelves of the miniature Empire State Building in Midtown.

They shouldn’t worry if there’s any garbage, it’s all sand. After “Sun & Sea” closes, it will be vacuumed, cleaned, and remodeled as a beach volleyball court, perhaps, or as a playground. But probably never again as an opera.

Sun & Sea (Marina)

Wednesday through September 26 in BAM Fisher, Brooklyn; bam.org.

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