Theatre and Music Review: ANIARA with The Crossing

The Crossing collaborates with Klockriketeatern, Wusheng Company, and Robert Maggio to create Aniara: fragments of time and space

It is a shame that Harry Martinson could not have seen the enormous popularity of his epic poem lamenting the destruction of the earth and the doomed efforts to escape the disaster of nuclear war. Martinson and his fellow Swede Eyvind Johnson shared the 1974 Nobel Prize for Literature in 1974 “for writings that catch the dewdrop and reflect the cosmos.” Both men were members of the Swedish Academy at the time they were awarded the prize, so, in Sweden, at least, their selection raised questions of objectivity.

Matti Raita. Photo by John C. Hawthorne

There is no doubt, however, that Martinson had a great influence on Swedish literature, poetry, and music. In 1958, the Swedish composer Karl-Birger Blondahl wrote an opera based on the poem, and an edited version of the opera was recorded on Columbia Records in 1968.

Martinson’s father died when he was young and his mother immigrated to America, abandoning him and his six siblings. He lived in a foster home and ran off to become a sailor until tuberculosis forced him to become a landlubber. He began to write poetry and indulge in his fascination with words and sounds.

Dan Henriksson, Artistic Director and General Manager of Klockriketeatern, created a fluid and dreamy libretto of Aniara. The dramatic narration by Carl Alm and the impish antics of Matti Raita created an atmosphere of action and adventure – immediately giving us a feeling of urgency as the space ship, or as Martinson named it, Goldonder Aniara, tried to recover from being hit by asteroids.

Robert Maggio’s score was impressive in its tight arrangements and ability to change style.  Starting in predictable cosmic beeps and dots, his choral writing became a rather Carl Orff-like chant – until the middle of the production when it veered into a mild rock number in “Let it Be True.”  Maggio wrote for the excellent soprano voices of The Crossing; Katy Avery, Rebecca Myers, and Rebecca Siler are able to sing the purist of high notes while dancing, sitting or flopping onto the hard Marley flooring.

The audience sat on the edge of a long rectangle and the singers came quite close – giving everyone a chance to hear individual voices as well as soloists. The deep yet gentle resonance of Daniel Schwartz’s baritone projected itself beautifully yet was a soft murmur while he was just a few feet away.

Joonas Tikkanen’s inventive lighting and video projections of stark Finnish landscapes onto Marley flooring were captivating. His design includes kinetic light tubes which form a moving set piece with which the chorus and dancers play and dance.

The choreography by Antti Silvennoinen of Wusheng Company had the entire crew moving constantly, often lining up on one or two sides of the room to allow the dramatists and Mima to be the focal point. Mima (danced by Silvennoinen) moved with mechanical precision in a stylized Asian dance. His costume, by Erika Turunen, consisted of a tailored jacket with long, draped sleeves and trousers with an overlay of wide-legged diaphanous material. Silvennoinen wore very high platform shoes– kicking, turning, and pirouetting as easily as if he were en pointe.

The chorus wore similar costumes – of no particular time period or style. Their shoes were of a soft material which created very little noise as they ran, jumped, and danced.

Robert Maggio’s music was beautiful, and the versatile orchestra, with Doris Hall-Gulati playing clarinet, bass clarinet, and keyboard, Thomas Mesa on cello, James Moore on guitar and Doug Perkins playing percussion including bells, xylophone, gong, cymbal, and synthesizer keyboard created a full sound.  It wouldn’t hurt to cut out about ten minutes of the score as it began to drag towards the end, but the ability of Maggio to jump into new styles is commendable.

As usual, Donald Nally has created a well-prepared musical performance with a message. If you can bear to contemplate the end of the earth, Aniara is a bewitching musical rendition of the message of doom.

[The Crossing, Klockriketeatern, and Wusheng Company join forces to present Aniara: fragments of time and space. June 20-23, 2019, Christ Church Neighborhood House, Philadelphia; July 3-4, 2019, Haarlem Choral Biennale, Haarlem, The Netherlands; September 16-21, 2019, Finnish National Opera, Helsinki, Finland.]

Antti Silvennoinen dances Mima. Photo by John C. Hawthorne


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