SHOW: Jump the Moon
GROUP: Philadelphia Opera Collective
ATTENDED: Sept. 17, 8:00 p.m., Skybox at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St.
CLOSES: Sept. 19
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: A kaleidoscopic waltz between calculations and reams, between life and the stars above.
WE THINK: Josh Hartman and Brenna Geffers’ experimental opera finds inspiration in fascinating circumstances: in the 1890s, a “harem” of women at Harvard discovered and cataloged more stars than anyone before or since.
From this, POC creates a richly textured, evocatively staged 65-minute composition, accompanied by only piano (Gabriel Rebolla) in the intimate Skybox space, without amplification. For those accustomed to opera in vast spaces or voices heard sound systems, that’s a treat already.
What stunned me, though, was the eloquent beauty of their creation. Kirsten C. Kunkle plays unheralded historical figure Annie Jump Cannon, toiling in obscurity for Professor Pickering (Michael A. Lienhard). Despite his condescending sexism, Jump Cannon and her fellow compilers working from photographs because women are barred from the observatory achieve great things.
Science and music mix well, Hartman proves, and Geffers’ libretto and staging likewise reveal the spirit of their work without bogging us down with details. “Someday, you’ll see, one can be two things simultaneously” is both about personal growth and the physics of stars, time, and space and the discoveries soon to be made in the new century.
This rich work addresses women’s plight “It is important for women to take up more space in the world,” Jump Cannon sings and men’s ignorance of women’s value “I need something orbiting around me,” one muses, “to know that I am here.” Pickering’s maid Williamina (Crystal Charles) reveals how pregnancy and her husband’s desertion ruined her teaching career: “I’m just a punchline in an old familiar joke,” she sings sardonically.
With all these wonderful things happening, it’s disappointing that another complication Jump Cannon’s deafness is addressed only intermittently. It either ought to be a more prominent challenge not only for her, but for the grad student who adores her and the women who respect her. Or, perhaps, despite the historical fact, it needs to be dropped. But it seems this creative team can incorporate the plight of a handicapped woman enduring discrimination on two fronts better.
Geffers’ small-budget production showcases the singers effectively and releases them from opera’s typical “park and bark” staging with movement that complements the music. It’s an auspicious premiere for this six-year-old company, yet another that’s forging an identity by performing annually in the FringeArts Festival.