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Before I fly to Manila, a theatre review…

Things I should have done on Saturday:
– Finished a slide deck for a presentation in Manila
– Finished my taxes
– Folded a month’s worth of laundry and packed

What I did on Saturday:
– Drove 300 miles to Boston (for the fourth time in 12 days) to see Rinde Eckert’s Orpheus X

If you’re not within 100 miles of Boston, you can safely ignore this post. If you are, let me make the case that you should make your way to the American Repertory Theatre in the next week.

Rinde Eckert creates surreal, avant-garde opera for people who don’t like opera. He’s got a four-octave vocal range, a talent for writing melodic lines that are jarring and beautiful at the same time, and the ability to recast old stories in radical new ways. I saw him perform for the first time in 1992 – in an early version of a piece that became “An Idiot Divine” – where he played an imprisoned murderer who taught himself to douse for water and play the accordion. By the time the lights went up, two thirds of the audience had walked out, and the remaining third were sitting slack-jawed in wonder.

In 2001, Eckert retold Moby Dick through the lens of a solitary composer writing his masterwork while losing his memory from Alzheimer’s – “And God Created Great Whales”. I saw it in North Adams, where the audience largely consisted of my friends and neighbors, few of whom are opera buffs. At the end of the second performance, the large, flannel-clad man sitting next to me said “I don’t know what the f*ck that was, but it made me weep.”

Orpheus X may be Rinde’s most accessible piece so far. He plays Orpheus, the world’s most famous and beloved rock star. Coming home from a show, his cab runs over Eurydice, an obscure poet, who dies in his arms. He sinks into a deep depression, building a shrine to Eurydice in his apartment while his fans camp outside. Meanwhile, Persephone (who is also Orpheus’s manager) helps Eurydice choose to forget. When Orpheus comes to rescue her from the underworld, she removes his blindfold and stays behind.

Yes, it’s very weird. Yes, there’s a naked women under the seats, scribbling Greek in white marker on a camera lens. Yes, the music is in 7/8 and 11/16 and features men singing German-style lieder in falsetto. And yes, it’s on stage this month only and may never be performed again. All the more reason to clear your calendar and go see it now. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen since… the last time I saw a Rinde Eckert show.