- A one-man opera, the true story of a slave in Cuba, a
quartet of astounding musicians, an unusual set design with
many symbolic props - these are some of the elements that
constitute the stunning production at Skylight Music Theatre
for one more weekend.
Cimarron,” an unusual operatic experience composed by Hans
Werner Henze and directed by Eugenia Arsenis, is a tour de
force for actor and singer Eric McKeever. He has a voice that
can soar to unexpected heights and can resonate with power and
beauty. He, with the four musicians who accompany him, leaves
us enthralled for 75 minutes.
McKeever smoothly moves about the stage, reconfiguring it to
change venues and advance his story, we marvel at his vocal
and narrative abilities. Music director Viswa Subbaraman plays
two roles as one of the percussionists and as director. The
music, provided by Nathan Wysock on guitar, Scott Mitlicka,
who alternated on various flutes and a piccolo, and Michael
Lorenz, the second percussionist, is eerie and atonal, very
fitting for this tale of oppression, anxiety and frustration.
is subtitled “Biography of the Runaway Slave Esteban
Montej,”a man of African descent who was born in Cuba. He
worked on the sugar plantatation from the age of 10 and was
treated as a Cimarron, a wild one. We follow his life from his
early years to his escape into the surrounding forest, where
he learned to survive on his own. These were probably his
happiest years despite the fears of being caught and punished
and being haunted by ghosts.
Cubans won their freedom from Spanish rule, Esteban returned
and worked again in the sugar industry, but life was not much
better for blacks, who were still regarded as peons. Despite
the many hardships of his life, this strong, brave man lived
to be 113. The material for this historic opera was gathered
from interviews with him when he was 104 years old. By means
of his memories, we get a picture of almost a century of Cuban
history from 1860 to Castro’s takeover.
One of the
most fascinating features of this piece is the set devised by
Lisa Anne Schlenker and her use of props. Ropes and chains and
a large convoluted tree dominate the stage. There are also
bright pieces of fabric that are used to symbolize women,
priests’ vestments or shelter. The lighting design by Noelle
Stollmack also contributes to mood and often reflects
Esteban’s sensitivity to the beauty of nature.
package bespeaks the agonies of injustice but also the
strength of the human spirit that finds ways to survive.
“El Cimarron” resonates long after the final bows
are taken. Director Eugenia Arsenis has created a searing
production that will be long remembered. Don’t miss this