Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Quantum Theatre leads off its 25th season with a world-premiere baroque opera of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” joined by Attack Theatre, music director Andres Cladera and a first-time collaboration with Chatham Baroque.
While it is easiest to label the mash-up an opera, Quantum leader Karla Boos prefers “ultimate piece of theater.”
“It’s a rich and emotional language, the language of music. I’m a believer in opera as ultimate theater,” she said.
Mr. Cladera, recalling his studies at Carnegie Mellon University, offered another term. “It’s Wagner’s word for ‘a total artwork,’ gesamtkunstwerk. That’s what it is,” he said.
“A Winter Tale” has a cast of 11 singers, including early music specialist David Newman, four Attack dancers and 10 musicians, expanding the Chatham Baroque trio to include flutist Stephen Schultz and oboist Geoffrey Burgess, among others.
There is one certainty, as with all things involving Quantum. The golden rule is to break any rule that doesn’t serve the project. For instance, in this baroque piece, the movement does not reference baroque dance.
“The physical vocabulary needed to be a voice for characters and for the music bringing us into these very distinct emotional and dramatic worlds — it had to be specific in the piece but not traditional in the dance form,” said Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza.
A few theatrical rules, however, might be helpful in getting to know what to expect from this hybrid production that opens today in the 300-seat, early 20th-century auditorium at the top of the Union Trust Building.
Set: Chairs gathered in a tight circle to the rear of the theater. Through closed glass doors, you can glimpse the top tier of the rotunda and the beautiful stained-glass dome.
Characters: Ms. de la Reza, co-founder and co-artistic director with Peter Kope of Attack Theatre, choreographers and co-creators with the artistic team. Four Attack dancers are in the production, one of several Quantum-Attack collaborations. Chatham Baroque musicians — violinist Andrew Fouts, seated with a thick binder on his lap, and viola da gamba player Patricia Halverson. Mr. Cladera — founder of The Microscopic Opera Company. Ms. Boos — Quantum queen bee and the catalyst for gathering this group to adapt “The Winter’s Tale.”
“The Winter’s Tale” summary: Jealous King Leontes accuses his wife, Hermione, of cheating on him with King Polixenes. Leontes believes his daughter, Perdita, to have been fathered by Polixenes, wreaking havoc with everyone’s lives.
The Interview: ACT I
Ms. Boos is running late due to traffic as the roundtable discussion begins.
Ms. Halverson: “From early on, we’ve been part of this discussion. Chatham Baroque has never collaborated with Quantum — certainly we have many times with Attack and we have performed with Andres — so this was a new opportunity, a new kind of project that was tantalizing and terrifying.”
Mr. Cladera: “As Karla likes to say, she likes to do things she doesn’t know how to do. I think all of us can say we didn’t know what we were getting into, because we had never created an opera from scratch.”
Ms. de la Reza: “ ‘The Winter’s Tale’ is so layered, and the whole realization of this concept is so multilayered, with the beautiful baroque music and the Shakespeare text on top of that, and the movement as a true player in the piece.”
Mr. Fouts: “There are so many tools at [Ms. Boos’] disposal and so many means of conveying those layers instead of just the lines. It’s a condensed narrative — there’s a lot to get across in 2½ hours. [He notes that videos by Joe Seamans also play a role in the narrative “as another expressive tool.”]
For Quantum, a company without walls, where site and creature comforts don’t always mix, the venue with bathrooms, temperature control and permanent seating is luxurious.
Mr. Cladera: “The [roughest Quantum venue] that comes to mind is the first one I did with Karla, which was ‘Candide.’ It was in a defunct car dealership that reeked of car oil and was a challenge acoustically and it was freezing. I remember we were going to hand out blankets. To have this luxury is kind of amazing.”
Mr. Fouts: “I think this space also works for her quintessentially, of having an unorthodox space. It was built by an industrialist in the Gilded Age. She gravitated to baroque music as an expressive vehicle in that it is so ornate and has all of this variety and depth. And one thing that was important in picking a space is that it would make the instruments sound good.”
Ms. Halverson: “That said, there were compromises that had to be made because of the space. There’s a runway that runs through the orchestra, which is not ideal.”
Ms. de la Reza: “With our dancing, we can’t do certain things because Andres, you guys can’t see each other.”
Mr. Cladera: “I actually enjoy giving Patty cues through dancers’ legs. [Laughter.] It happens, and it’s kind of awesome.”
Ms. de la Reza: “I wouldn’t want anyone who knows Quantum to think that just because this is a controlled space, it is in any way a traditional use of the space. The whole way this is conceived is creating this immersive world.”
Mr. Fouts: “Fitting in with Karla’s ethos, it doesn’t work on many levels.” [Laughter.]
Ms. Boos appears on the other side of the glass doors, sweeps in and takes a seat. This is a space she has been pursuing for some time and secured through a happy set of circumstances.
Ms. Boos: “I’m so glad I didn’t get to use it for something else, because this is what it was meant for. I wouldn’t have attempted to do this in a steel mill. The acoustics needed to be excellent.”
As Ms. Boos arrives, the artistic team is talking about the idea of “The Winter’s Tale” living on, beyond this initial run, and Ms. Boos joins in.
Ms. Boos: “When I heard it start to finish, that was a very magical moment, for all the work we had done. … There was a moment when I said, ‘More Vivaldi arias!’ Even in my ignorance, I was able to contribute to this whole that came to be. So yeah, I think we want it to live, because it’s beautiful.”