Classical TV: Interview with Eric Einhorn about “Pygmalion”
SOME OF THE most exciting stage productions in the world today are being presented by smallish opera companies that have the wit, determination, and maneuverability to stage classic works in new ways— allowing audiences to embrace stories and scores that have sometimes faded under the varnish of too much adoration.
One of these companies, only two years old, has garnered critical and popular acclaim for its productions in and around New York. On Site Opera specializes in immersive, site-specific productions that have included Shostakovich’s The Tale of the Silly Baby Mouse at the Bronx Zoo; and Gershwin’s Blue Monday at the Cotton Club in Harlem. Now, starting on June 17, On Site is staging a new production of Rameau’s 1748 opera in the form of a one-act acte de ballet Pygmalion, at two New York sites: Madame Tussauds New York and Lifestyle-Trimco mannequin showroom.
The production features Marc Molomot as Pygmalion, Emalie Savoy as Cephise, Justine Aronson as L’Amour), and Camille Zamora as La Statue. The New Vintage Baroque ensemble is conducted by Jennifer Peterson, and the production was directed by Eric Einhorn, with choreography by Jordan Isadore.
To learn more, we caught up with On Site Opera Artistic Director Eric Einhorn.
CLASSICAL TV: First of all, can you tell us why you’ve chosen to present Rameau’s Pygmalion? Rameau is such an exciting composer, whose scores are full of invention. What is it about Pygmalion—the story and/or the music– that excites and interests you most?
ERIC EINHORN: We considered many operas and interesting venues in the selection process, but none seemed to work as perfectly as Pygmalion at Madame Tussauds and the Lifestyle-Trimco showroom. Rameau’s incredible score– as well as the story– really lends itself to an intimate site-specific production.
Before settling on Rameau’s version of the Pygmalion myth, we explored the Donizetti and Cherubini versions as well. I kept going back to the Rameau, though, as I found his version of the story to be the richest musically and most complex dramatically. Rameau created a Pygmalion in conflict, an obsessed artist tortured by his unrequited love for the Statue as well as his fading relationship with the all-too-human Cephise — a Rameau character invention that adds a wonderful new layer to the story. What excites me about this opera is the incredible human story of artistic obsession and conflicted love that is told through Rameau’s beautiful and heart-breaking music. With this production, we commemorate the genius of Rameau in the 250th anniversary year of his death.
CTV: What can you tell us about these two decidedly non-traditional venues—Madame Tussauds and the Lifestyle-Trimco showroom—that you’re using for this production? Why did you choose them, and was it difficult to arrange a performance there? How are you using the inanimate figures in each location? What kind of advantage, in terms of audience engagement, is created when you present a traditional work like Pygmalion in a non-traditional way?
EE: Early on, I knew that I wanted to find a more contemporary setting for Pygmalion. Setting this piece among marble statues seemed to keep it arm’s length, and it is a key part of On Site Opera’s mission to immerse audiences in a way that makes these stories truly accessible. I began to research possible venues that would create a contemporary analog to the sculptor’s studio, and a wax museum and mannequin showroom both manifested themselves as perfect locations.
I researched NYC mannequin showrooms to find a location that would provide the strongest environment for the action, and that research lead me to the Lifestyle-Trimco showroom. Simultaneous to that, I started a conversation with Madame Tussauds New York about bringing the performance there as well. As these conversations went on, it became clear that we had two perfect venues on our hands. Rather than settle on one, we seized the opportunity to create a production for two venues, allowing us to grow as a company as well as offer our audiences two great site-specific experiences.
Since we produce in venues that typically do not host opera, there is always a period of time when we have to introduce our work — and sometimes the art form– to venues. We have been very lucky with all of our venue partners in the past and for Pygmalion, in that they all recognize the potential power of opera that features their wonderful spaces. Ken Stolls, the president of Lifestyle-Trimco, Daill Garbini from Madame Tussauds, as well as all of their respective staffs were immediately excited and supportive of our endeavor. Opera is an incredibly collaborative art form, and that collaboration is perhaps even more important when producing in non-traditional venues.
A wonderful advantage of presenting Pygmalion in our two venues, is that audiences bring with them certain ideas about the spaces they are going to visit. Even without thinking specifically about the opera, audiences bring their own ideas and experiences relating to wax museums and mannequin showrooms. Once they arrive, their imaginations catch fire even more and they immerse themselves in the stories unfolding around them. This level of engagement (both before and during the performance) is something that I believe is only possible through site-specific production.