BAM Howard Gilman Opera House
Peter Jay Sharp Building
230 Lafayette Ave.
June 6-8, $30-$60, 7:30
The controversial work of the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe has been undergoing a renaissance over the last few years, with documentaries, gallery and museum shows, and, perhaps most influentially, Patti Smith’s award-winning memoir about her life with Mapplethorpe, Just Kids. Now comes composer Bryce Dessner and librettist Korde Arrington Tuttle’s multimedia Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), playing at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House June 6-8. The sixty-minute theatrical oratorio is divided into three sections based on Mapplethorpe’s XYZ portfolios, which explore sadomasochism, flowers, and African American male nudes, respectively. The first part centers on Smith’s poem “The Boy Who Loved Michelangelo,” set to a Monteverdi madrigal; the second on Dessner’s personal reaction to the 1990 Mapplethorpe obscenity trial in Cincinnati, the composer’s hometown; and the third on poet and performance artist Essex Hemphill’s “The Perfect Moment,” which was critical of Mapplethorpe’s depiction of black bodies. “Aesthetics can justify desire, / but desire in turn / can provoke punishment. / Under public scrutiny / the eyes of one man / are focused on another. / Is it desire, equality, / disgust, or hatred?” he writes. Meanwhile, in a program note, dramaturg Christopher Myers asks, “Is it possible to imagine these men who are photographed with the impersonal intimacy of flowers, or bronze sculptures, as full human beings, with desires and pleasures of their own? Can we read the desire of the photographer, his conflicts and self-denials, in his steadfast commitment to a classical language that recasts leather daddies and daddy’s boys into upper middle class living room fantasies? Where in this thorny bramble of gazes, objectification, outrage, and intimacy do our own wants and expectations as an audience live?”
The production, which features giant projections of rarely shown Mapplethorpe photographs, is directed by Kaneza Schaal, with music performed live by Roomful of Teeth (Cameron Beauchamp, Martha Cluver, Eric Dudley, Estelí Gomez, Abigail Lennox, Thomas McCargar, Thann Scoggin, and Caroline Shaw), joined by soprano Alicia Hall Moran and tenor Isaiah Robinson; Brad Wells is the music director and conductor, with Jessica McJunkins on violin, Tia Allen on viola, Byron Hogan on cello, Kyra Sims on French horn, Ian Tyson on clarinet and bass clarinet, Laura Barger on piano and harmonium, Donnie Johns and Victor Pablo on percussion, and James Moore on guitar. The set and costumes are by Carlos Soto, lighting by Yuki Nakase, and video by Simon Harding. On June 7 at 6:00, the talk “Mapplethorpe in Performance with Bryce Dessner, Kaneza Schaal, and Korde Arrington Tuttle” will be held in the BAM Hillman Attic Studio.