Prototype Festival 2021 Review: Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists
A Unique Experience Full of Dreamweavers, Butterflies, Mirrored Scorpion, & MoreBy Jennifer Pyron
“Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists” was produced by VaVaVoom Theatre and Bedroom Community and was premiered in May 2014, at the 28th edition of Reykjavik Arts Festival. PROTOTYPE’s annual festival debuted the digital US premiere this year and has reopened conversations about this work and its contemporary significance in the opera world.
“This is a song cycle, a collection of songs linked together. I didn’t want to bother with putting a label on this. I was not trying to write an opera because I think modern opera can be anything,” said composer Valgeir Sigurdsson. Based on a book written by poet A. Rawlings, “Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists” is a multidimensional body of lyrical expressions that challenges perspectives around what opera-theatre is by showing one what opera-theatre can be.
Bringing it All Together
From the beginning, the opera came together across many art forms. Sigurdsson’s decision to build upon a multidisciplinary concept while creating “Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists” paved the way for his composition to bring forward something new to be considered; an all-embracing contemporary art form.
Bedroom Community, his label co-founded alongside Ben Frost and Nico Muhly, is a platform that has grown tremendously since its conception. While the group initially created this label to release their own work, it is now a developing collection of community-based artists such as Liam Byrne, who is an instrumentalist for “Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists.” Such close-knit community ties are felt in this production and bind together a communal effort of thoughtful innovation.
“Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists” musicians beautifully interpret Sigurdsson’s song-cycle structure with fluidity and originality. They are the leaders in their instrument’s modern interpretation. Experimentally driven and fearlessly in tune with what does and does not work in contemporary composition, James McVinnie, Liam Byrne and Olafur Bjorn Olafsson are stellar.
In addition to its music, “Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists” is a synthesis of the arts. This work captures the minds of audience members through its many layers of interpretation. Its drama induced swells combined with light and video designer Ingi Bekk, and animation and video art designer Pierre-Alain Giraud’s work leave no stone unturned for the imagination.
A. Rawlings’ book, as interpreted by Sigurdsson, comes to life through a wide scope full of multiple stories and jumps wildly outside of anyone’s assumption about the actual purpose for pairing sleep study research with lepidoptery, the scientific study of butterflies and moths. It seems that one is expected to create interpretations on their own and this is the point.
Moments featuring dream weavers, mounting butterflies, stories starting and stopping, mirrored scorpions, soulful cello solos, a blank paper canvas with hands punching through, a rotating box full of woven ribbon, maggots and flies, and angelic singing around a stunning chrysalis are only a handful of what “Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists” actually includes.
It is the entire experience of the production that is required for one to draw a full conclusion of this work, unless one is open to the option of never needing to define what is both seen and unseen. The sense of mysterious wonder eludes the need to be anything more or less. Therefore, it is what it is.
The singers of this production, Alexi Murdoch, Sasha Siem, and Asgerdur Juniusdottir are also incredibly remarkable. Murdoch, a British folk musician, is the lead role in this production and performs as the sleep study’s insomniac. His voice is gentle and speech-like in tone as he is followed in the production as the one who is actually sleeping and being studied. He is relatable in his interpretation and one might feel drawn to his nightmarish tendencies as he fights his thoughts in wake and sleep. He is a projection of the world around him and his mind suffers in its grasp.
British singer-songwriter Sasha Siem is soft-spoken and computer programmer-like as she sings and performs as the role of the sleep scientist. Her voice creates a percussive flow that works very well in this music.
Icelandic singer Asgerdur Juniusdottir is a powerhouse in this production while performing as the lepidopterist. Juniusdottir’s voice is deeply rooted in the expansive possibilities of vocal expression. She dramatically leads the other singers on a wild journey of sleepless turmoil, visions, and at times distorted chaos of the mind. She is the lepidopterist and therefore creates the synesthesia web for all of this production’s moments to make sense. Her character is extraordinarily abstract and this allows Juniusdottir’s voice to be as original and remarkable as it is.
Every member of this production is a leading artist in their field and director Sara Marti makes a very strong impression. Along with set designer Eva Signy Berger, costume designer Harpa Einarsdottir, loom designers Marie Keller & S. Sunna Reynisdottir, “Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists” is a renewed hope for opera-theatre and a breath of fresh air for contemporary opera lovers.