As we stand at the crossroads of life and gather as an audience once again, do we look to the past, or towards a better tomorrow?
With its search for answers, “Birds in the Moon”, a mobile, theatrical chamber opera by Mark Grey and Júlia Canosa i Serra, directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer, receives its West Coast Premiere for four performances on September 1 to 4 at 7 p.m.
This new chamber opera will be presented by The Broad Stage, outdoors on Santa Monica’s Lot 27 (located at the corner of Arizona and 5th Street), in partnership with Downtown Santa Monica, and is supported an Art of Recovery grant from the City of Santa Monica. COVID protocols will be in place, including proof of vaccination, in compliance with the City of Santa Monica’s current safety measures. Tickets and information available at www.thebroadstage.org.
Birds in the Moon takes place on a traveling, magic box – a fully transformable, self-contained, state-of-the-art shipping container, designed and built by container and set designer Chad Owens, which opens to create a stage, with LED screen, lights and sound system; the top pops up to offer another playing area as well.
Featuring Maria Elena Altany as the Bird Mother and Austin Spangler as the Ringmaster, and with the Friction Quartet, soundscapes and video projections, Birds in the Moon tells a story about migration and a search for a better world.
It is drawn from a whimsical 17th century theory that birds migrated to the moon, spent their winter there and came back to earth where they would remain for the season.
In the story, a weary yet persistent Bird-Mother lands in a remote desert place, searching for shelter and water for herself and her child. There she encounters an aging circus Ringmaster and his traveling musicians, who live hand to mouth, entertaining passersbys. Both souls seek escape from the peril of this dry desert, believing in the moon as the answer to their plight. This quest seals their fate as they make a pact that leaves them each forever changed.
Director Elkhanah Pulitzer said, “We had a number of ideas: the dearth of works with compelling, riveting and complicated female protagonists, being captivated with a show that could come out of a shipping container that could turn into a kind of travelling circus, reaching many different communities and audiences, and a fantasy of performing it in the desert.”
Composer Mark Grey said, “Before COVID, Júlia Canosa i Serra and I began to think about developing a song cycle for a mezzo-soprano and a small ensemble that touched on some kind of social and political subject. The Syrian refugee crisis was in the news, so we were thinking about migration as well as thinking about human trafficking, what happens at our southern border and families trying to send their children to a better place. It is a poignant subject, and we wanted to bring a subtlety to the message.”
Grey continued, “Júlia found writings from Charles Morton who formulated an idea in the 17th century that birds would migrate to the moon. The following year some would come back and others would be lost in space – placing a scientific canopy over the idea of migration. We could run with the idea with birds as a metaphor that can pass through time and space. Birds have no boundaries in that way. We wanted to infuse our work with Morton’s ideas of a physical and scientific exploration of what birds might achieve.”
“At first the ringmaster is selling trips to the moon, which is fake. The Bird-Mother wants to teach her child to fly to the moon for a new life. She sacrifices her own feathers for her child but doesn’t know if it’s for real as she’s never been there.”
Elkhanah said, “Magical realism is an inspiration. An entry point is that the moon is a utopia without oxygen – the double edge sword of trying to seek a better life. The spiritual component is not unlike Samuel Beckett, and the Bird-Mother takes on resonances with Buddha or Jesus — a shamanistic character providing a deeper promise through her own suffering and sacrifice.”