On Sunday, April 27, the operatic song cycle Ravens & Radishes received its world premiere in Houston, TX. A collaboration of poetry by Divergence Vocal Theater’s artistic director and soprano Misha Penton, and Liminal Space co-artistic director, composer and guitarist George Heathco, the project was conceived after the two collaborated on a Divergence Vocal Theater production in 2011, and bloomed into a music video and EP release project.
This was the first premiere I have attended where the audience received a free download of the EP with their ticket and program—a fad I hope catches on. The show began with a music video projected on the wall of the modern art space in the Museum District. This set a mood of spookiness with mist and tree branches in each frame of the videography by Raul Casares. The show then moved on with Misha Penton singing soprano, George Heathco on electric guitar, and Daniel Saenz playing cello.
Set for electric guitar, cello and voice, the five-song work (Witch in Winter, Mirror, October Ravine, Sheep’s Clothing, and The Firebird) is tied together by the voice and the fairy tale poetry detailing scenes each with its own mood, mode and focus. The electric guitar and cello switch back and forth from the role of grounding earthly element, to the supernatural at different points within every song, each instrument working toward the specific motif of a character. Ravens & Radishes also included a dance element: to enhance the description of the Ridding Hood character in the fourth song Sheep’s Clothing, dancer Meg Brooker moved around the space—in both the live performance and the accompanying video—with feminine grace and strength.
The experience was noticeably entrancing to the sold-out audience: low level light design, minimalist set, and staging in the close quarter seating made for an intimate feel. The music video served as a companion piece, as it described the feel and musical lushness of the entire work. Misha Penton has been known to forge her own paths as an artist, and with the composition of George Heathco under her poetry, and the use of recording and video with live performance as a platform, she presents herself as a radical contemporary collaborative artist.
The vibe of the live concert was relaxed, hip and almost exclusive with the “swag” at the door. The addition of an EP and a music video made for a holistic approach to this operatic song cycle.[George Heathco is a contributor to this blog – Ed.]