A Feast for the Eyes
This weekend the Harvard Early Music Society is putting on yet another work by Handel. Last year’s Acis and Galatea was a more traditional production, but this year’s show, Alexander’s Feast, was anything, but ordinary. It matched Handel’s opera with a couture fashion show. This juxtaposition was odd and often times took away from the singers and made the already plotless show seem even more ridiculous and confusing.
The best thing about the show was clearly the music. The orchestra, conducted by Sam Wu, was phenomenal. Handel has never been one of my favorite composers, but the orchestra might have changed my mind. The singers were also clear and beautiful. Oddly enough, Alexander the Great, performed by Andrew O’Shanick, sang the least of the four main characters. He mainly functioned as a pretty face for the other performers to look at, though when he did singer, it was wonderful. Andrew Troska performed the tenor role of Timotheus. His portrayal was over the top, with vivid expressions and loud gestures. Still, he enhanced the performance with both his voice and spirit. The soprano, Emily Thorner, had a lovely voice and excellent diction. Her acting in the role of Thais was sufficient, but the lack of plot made most of her acting confusing. Sara Weaver, the alto playing Thais’ friend, was my favorite voice of the night, and her portrayal was just expressive enough. The entire cast, including the very talented chorus, did an impressive job!
Though the theatrical aspect of the show could have used improvement, what the director Steve Kunis did well was design a set. The Horner room was transformed into a fashion show with the addition of a large runway and stage with chairs flanking it. The lights, designed by Suzu Sakai, enhanced the high fashion aesthetic with small lights decorating the runway and more lights behind and above the stage. It is difficult to light the Horner room, it was executed wonderfully for this show. The high fashion feel of the show was also perpetuated by the props, namely the electric torches and drinks the entire cast utilized. The beverages for the audience were also a very nice touch.
Though the couture aesthetic was achieved in the set, the clothes themselves failed to deliver. This was Saad Amer’s first line of clothes and it reflected in the construction of the garments. There were poorly sewn seams, unclipped threads, and pieces that were held together by pins. One of the dresses was even missing one of its details in the first act, though it was fixed by the second. Still, it is very impressive that he was able to finish twelve outfits for the show without any help. The designs themselves were interesting for the most part, though some the skirts lacked creativity and were excessively basic.
As is explained in the program, all of the fabrics used were organic or “upcycled” in an attempt to be environmentally conscience. This is a wonderful idea that more of which the fashion industry should take advantage. Yet, terming remaking old clothes into new ones “upcycling” seems to overlook that this is not a new idea, but something that has existed for a centuries in poorer classes. Besides this pretentious attitude and rebranding, the message of sustainability is a welcome one.
Another thing that made the fashion show awkward was how slowly the models walked. They were extremely stiff and slow. The makeup was also far too bold. Simpler makeup would have allowed the clothing to shine. That being said, the models were all incredibly beautiful and must be applauded for the confidence with which they walked.
Overall, the show was very enjoyable! It was a pleasant surprise. If you feel like being classy, go see the show tonight or tomorrow.