You can think of “The Invention of Morel” — the opera with music by Stewart Copeland (yes, the co-founder and drummer of the Police) and his co-librettist and director, Jonathan Moore — in many different ways. On the one hand, the work, now receiving a winningly haunted and haunting production by Chicago Opera Theater, is the alternately unnerving nightmare and beautiful fever dream of a man on the run who sees no hope for his future until he conjures a relationship with an enigmatic woman.
It also can be seen as the chronicle of a wholly disorienting journey into what Joseph Conrad called “The Heart of Darkness.” Or you might consider it a meditation on the decadent members of an elite social circle who entertain a wholly delusional sense of privilege and are blind to anyone beyond their tight enclave.
But there is more.
‘THE INVENTION OF MOREL’
When:7:30 p.m. Feb. 24 and 3 p.m. Feb. 26
Where: Studebaker Theater in
Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan
Tickets: $39 – $125
Info: (312) 704-8414;
Run time: 90 minutes with
In fact, so many themes are laced through this 90-minute work based on a 1940 novel by the Argentinean writer Adolfo Bioy Casares — everything from the idealization of unrequited love and the tension between science and faith in God to the decidedly mixed blessing of immortality — that you might well find yourself diving into its philosophical arguments as much as listening to its winningly eclectic and expertly sung score, a mix of familiar modernist dissonance spiced with a richly refreshing use of percussion, Latin rhythms and the popular dance music of an earlier time.
And on top of everything else in this co-commissioned world premiere with California’s Long Beach Opera, there is the enticing, off-kilter visual world of the piece conjured by set designer Alan Muraoka, lighting designer David Martin Jacques, video designer Adam Flemming and Jenny Mannis, whose costumes (with their hint of the 1920s world of “The Great Gatsby”) could easily find a place on Fashion Week runways.
The story begins as a bearded Fugitive (Andrew Wilkowske) and his “double,” who serves as the Narrator (Lee Gregory, like Wilkowske a fine actor and strong baritone), stagger onto a lush, seemingly deserted island in the South China Sea. It’s a place with a mythic history, including the outbreak of a devastating plague (and, ironically, it is now the site of genuine geopolitical turmoil). The man, who seems to be a disgruntled intellectual/poet, has fled persecution in Italy and still fears he is being pursued as he takes shelter in a grand museum and mansion whose basement is home to diabolical machinery.
Soon, a luxury ship arrives on the island, dispensing wealthy, self-involved guests who see it as a paradise. There is Morel (the honeyed tenor Nathan Granner, just smarmy and egotistical enough as the “inventor” who is revealing his monumental discovery), along with Scott Brunscheen as the egotistical architect, Barbara Landis as the Duchess, Kimberly E. Jones as the famous chanteuse and David Govertsen as the man who argues that science and faith need not be mutually exclusive.
And then there is the cool, elusive man magnet Faustine (Valerie Vinzant, a powerful soprano with a supermodel allure, flapper bob and the ability to unfold on a beach towel with balletic grace). The Fugitive immediately falls madly in love with her, even if, in the face of all his efforts to pursue her on the beach, he remains entirely transparent. That unrequited love becomes his driving life force (and fatal compulsion) as he muses on a fabled “brothel of the blind” in India where men are felt but never seen. His embrace of the very idea of love becomes that feeling’s best manifestation here, and perhaps a strange key to immortality.
At once eerily realistic and altogether phantasmagorical, “The Invention of Morel” deftly balances period charm with a contemporary sense of artificial reality. A most intriguing new work.
NOTE: Earlier this month, artistic director Andreas Mitisek announced he will be leaving his position at COT at the conclusion of this season. In April, Mitisek (who eliminated all the company’s debt during his tenure) will conduct Phillip Glass’ opera “The Perfect American” at the Harris Theater, and he will continue a future relationship with COT as a guest conductor and director in the 2017-18 season (to be announced) and beyond. Beginning in September, COT will be led by general director Douglas Clayton, currently the company’s executive director. A search for a part-time music director to join the artistic leadership team is planned.