Persona

Chamber opera about the concept of silence.
Amanda Crider (Alma Lacey), Lacey Dorn (Elisabet Vogler). National Sawdust, 2015
Persona
Chamber opera about the concept of silence.
LA Opera
9 Nov — 31 Dec 2017
Los Angeles, California

Other adaptions

  • National Sawdust, 23 Oct — 25 Nov 2015, New York
Mr. Makan sets the text with striking sensitivity to when a moment demands conversational naturalness or supple lyricism.
- The New York Times

About the production

The second of two chamber operas based on Persona to premiere in 2015.  Persona marks the first major collaboration between composer Keeril Makan and librettist Jay Scheib, and is Makan's first opera.

"I was fascinated by the concept of using a multi-dimensional object [the film] as material," says Scheib, who originally had the idea of adapting the film in 2009.

Makan, as the composer, says it was very much the abundance of silence in Bergman’s “Persona” that led him to think an opera version of the story was possible: “Because of the silence, there’s a lot of room for music,” says Makan. “There is a soundtrack [in the film], but it’s pretty minimal. It seemed like there was space for music, and it seemed like the kind of topic music could address. Issues that would be silent in the movie can be colored by the music.”

During its short two-day-run the piece gained an uniformly enthusiastic response from critics:

The Wall Street Journal

In what is essentially a tall white box, with the small audience pressed up close against the performers, it joined with the opera and the production - directed by Mr. Scheib and featuring roving video cameras that relayed the action to four screens—to create a deliberately uncomfortable, voyeuristic experience. /…/

The eight-member Either/Or Ensemble, led by Evan Ziporyn, created atmosphere and built tension. Squeaks and squeals gave way to dreamily hypnotic passages and aural violence. The spare, crystalline score was hauntingly insidious, pulling the listener inexorably into this vampire-like romance.

The New York Times

In the movie we sometimes glimpse a film crew hovering over Alma and Elisabet. That framing device is a central component of the opera as conceived for the intimate National Sawdust space, set up to accommodate 125 people. Long-armed cameras constantly followed the two central characters, showing them in live close-up videos on four screens.

Music comes first in any opera, and Mr. Makan’s 85-minute score, roughly as long as the film, compellingly drives the drama in “Persona.” Mr. Makan sets the text with striking sensitivity to when a moment demands conversational naturalness or supple lyricism. On the surface, the instrumental writing, scored for eight players (members of the Either/Or Ensemble), might seem like a backdrop, shifting from stretches of steady, pulsing chords to atmospheric sounds to squirrely riffs. But Mr. Makan’s acute ear for harmony and eerie textures draw you in continually.

The mezzo-soprano Amanda Crider made a winsome, vulnerable and, when the story turns dark, wildly volatile Alma, who for long stretches carries the entire opera, since Elisabet does not speak. Ms. Crider sang with deep expressivity and impressive stamina. The actress Lacey Dorn was a haunting Elisabet. Beneath her outward fragility and physical tenderness toward Alma, you sensed a disturbed yet strong-willed woman. Is the silent Elisabet an actress performing her greatest role? That’s one possible explanation.

Sources

  • 'Persona', 'Refuse the Hour' and 'Heretical Angel' Reviews, Heidi Waelson, The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26, 2015.
  • Anthony Tommasini, ‘Persona,’ an Opera Based on the Ingmar Bergman Film, New York Times, 26 Oct 2015.
  • From screen to stage, Peter Dizikes | MIT News Office, October 14, 2015.

Images/video

Collaborators

  • Ingmar Bergman, Author
  • Jay Scheib, Libretto
  • Keeril Makan, Music
  • Evan Ziporyn, Music Direction
  • Caleb Wertenbaker, Set design
  • Oana Botez, Costume Design
  • Josh Higgason, Video & light design
  • Amanda Crider, Alma
  • Lacey Dorn, Elisabet Vogler
  • Eve Gigliotti, The Doctor
  • Joshua Jeremiah, The man