MetLiveArts 2019-20 Review: The Mother of Us All
Soprano Felicia Moore Brilliantly Portrays Susan B. Anthony & Her Life’s Legendary JourneyBy Jennifer Pyron
(Credit: Stephanie Berger)
As part of the MetLiveArts series and Project 19 initiative, The Met Museum collaborated with musicians from the NY Philharmonic and singers from The Juilliard School’s Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts in a historical performance of Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s “The Mother of Us All.”
This creative collaboration was the first of its kind to be hosted in The Met’s American Wing which brought to life an art-historical journey to mark the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, also known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.
Juilliard singers transformed The Met into an emotionally evoking experience of societal issues mixed with multiple perspectives created by Gertrude Stein’s libretto and brought to life by the Creative and Design Team. The central ideas surrounding Susan B. Anthony’s life of strife as delivered by this collaboration celebrated her incorruptible vein of hope for humanity and the key reasons for why her story is most impactful today.
Developing Multiple Perspectives on a Grand Scale
In “The Mother of Us All,” Stein’s libretto brings together both fictional and non-fictional characters from an array of American history periods. Stein hones in on relevancies alike but most importantly concludes the opera with an open-ended assumption of Anthony’s actual conscious and subconscious processing throughout her life’s mission for equality and women’s right to vote.
It is because of Stein’s transformative writing and webbing together of such characters that performers are given a chance to express themselves within the creative process of live performance. Paired with Thomson’s unique collaging of American inspired melodies, “The Mother of Us All” ultimately provided each singer with infinite reason to deliver insightful moments that transpired into groundbreaking performances.
Soprano Felicia Moore’s catalytic performance as Anthony was the driving force behind this grand collaboration. From the moment Moore entered The Met’s American Wing, wearing Anthony’s quintessential black dress uniform, one might have felt the weight of a life’s promise for a better world, which Moore brilliantly channeled throughout her entire performance.
Moore’s understanding of Anthony’s life was supremely told and examined through the colors and tone of her voice. She sang not only with conviction as Anthony, but also with hope for modern day. Moore’s palate of emotional depth was limitless in its ability. One might say this was Moore’s initial performance of a lifetime and the potential foretelling of an opera magnate career ahead.
Singers from The Juilliard School’s Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts such as Libby Sokolowski, Erin Wagner, Gregory Feldmann, William Socolof, Chance Jonas-O’Toole, Kyle Miller, Carlyle Quinn, Jaylyn Simmons, Yvette Keong, Alma Neuhaus, Lydia Grace Graham, James Rootring, Ryan Hurley, Aaron Keeney, Richard Pittsinger, Santiago Pizarro, Deborah Love, Ian Matthew Castro, and Jared Werlein added delightful nuance and energetic atmosphere to this lively opera.
Chorus members Brian Alvarado, Jeanette Blakeney, Paul Greene-Dennis, Matt Krenz, Geraldine McMillian, Adrienne Patino Dunn, Rogelio Penaverde, Migeul Angel Vasquez, Kathryn Whitaker, and Jin-Xiang Yu created a layer of voices and a beautiful mix of personality. Combining different levels of studied singers for this production was key to what kept the opera away from being too heavy and serious.
Live Wire Synergy
Audience members sat amongst the moving singers and stationary sculptures which created a type of live wire synergy that propelled the opera forward. And despite the high level of active moments one could indulgently watch, there was also room to daydream and mentally wander into internal ideas about the underlying core message that created each moment. Simply put, the well-organized artistic interpretation of each member that was part of this collaboration was very thought out and balanced.
And one particularly empowering moment was when each character addressed the massively molded marble column where Felicia Moore was raised and portrayed Anthony’s ghost. The headstone was positioned next to American artist Jo Davidson’s “Gertrude Stein” bronze sculpture and offered a moment of mediative reflection on both Anthony and Stein’s commemorative lives.
A glimpse into the past, present and future of societal equality was at the heart of this collaboration, but even more so was the understanding that it takes compassion and awareness as a whole to induce positive transformation on a grand scale.
The Met’s American Wing also provided a totally new lens to realize this opera under the direction of Louisa Proske’s pioneering vision. Singers weaved in and around sculptures that mirrored a remarkable breadth of range and diversity centralized around better understanding equality, that seemed to awaken every sense of an audience member’s imagination.
Conductor Daniela Candillari lead musicians from the NY Philharmonic and utilized The Met wing’s open design with mindful awareness that allowed the music to ebb and flow in real time. She was keenly aware of every instrument and voice’s role in the opera. For example, her tempo was modified at times so that phrases could breathe, characters could reassemble and Felicia Moore’s voice could blossom even further into the high ceiling overhead.
One might say that Candillari’s sensitivity was one of the most special ingredients that made this collaboration savory to the senses.