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Gotham Chamber Opera: Reality Fame Reinvented In NYC

Lee Fryd

Cast of "Die Prinzessin auf der Erbse" (The Princess and the Pea) takes inspiration from Kim Kardashian's over-the-top reality fame. (Photo: Richard Termine)

Young, hip...opera? Neal Goren's been leading the way with Gotham Chamber Opera, staging intimate, avant garde productions in such off beat NYC venues as the Box burlesque house in the East Village, the Hayden Planetarium and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for the past 12 years. Young, attractive opera stars performing with the legends, collaborations with such contemporary artists as Diane Paulus, Mark Morris and Moises Kaufmann and, of course, raw operatic drama are Gotham hallmarks.

"The Princess and the Pea" reimagined as a Kardashian reality show. Soprano's interacting with the audience between pieces. It was all part of the season's opening presentation, the U.S. stage premiere of Baden-Baden 1927, recreating the four one-act operas presented one evening that year, during the composer-organized Baden-Baden Festival of Contemporary Music: Kurt Weill's "Mahagonny Songspiel," Paul Hindemith's "There and Back," Darius Milhaud's "The Abduction of Europa," and Ernst Toch's "The Princess and the Pea." Artistic Director Neal Goren conducted at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater. German neo-expressionist painter Georg Baselitz provided set design; Paul Curran, the stage director.

"Within the Opera profession we've become known as trend setters," Goren told us, "When we started out 12 years ago, chamber music wasn't done. I'm told now, because of us, it's caught on. Big opera companies like Dallas and Philadelphia have incorporated chamber music into their mission."

Gotham has also taken on an experimental mantle. "Sometimes we work in ways one doesn't usually see," Goren said. "We utilize a lot of video, choreography and include the other arts in ways other companies might not. We push the envelope and see ourselves as more populist. It's a more relaxed experience being in the audience.

"Our whole gesture is more human sized. We have a more limited mission to do pieces that were meant to be intimate. We do repertoire that you usually don't encounter in the big houses, because they're meant for smaller spaces, where I feel the emotional power of opera is distilled. I see the company as a compliment to the Met rather the alternative."

Look to see Gotham's production of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's "La descente de'Orphee aux enfers," at the Trinity Church Wall Street, January 1-5, 2014. In February, they'll stage a double bill at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Il combattimento di trancredi e Chorlinda" by Monteverdi, staging this battle between two knights in the Bloomberg Armor Gallery, and a new work by Gotham's Composer-in-Residence Lembit Beecher, "I Have No Stories to Tell You," next door in the Medieval Court.

Now about those Kardashians, who, like Anna Nicole Smith, just attained operatic dimension. "It was Paul Curran's idea," Goren said. "Since the princess is only distinguished by the fact she tells everyone she is one, that got Paul thinking about the nature of celebrity and the nature of royalty. That took him to the Kardashian's and reality television." We doubt Kim Kardashian could sleep with a cold hard pea under her mattresses either.

Cast of "Mahagonny Songspiel". (Photo: Richard Termine)

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