Myth and nature guide a destined human romance in ‘Iceland’ at NYC’s La MaMa

Presented by Overtone Industries with the support of BARE opera, the world premiere of Iceland: a re-Creation Myth – an interdisciplinary opera/theater work by composer/librettists O-Lan Jones and Emmett Tinley – marks the LA-based company’s NYC debut, with a brief engagement at La MaMa. It’s an exquisitely beautiful and haunting piece that makes me hope they’ll be back again soon, and often, with more of their original creations.

The ensemble. Photo by Bronwen Sharp.

The bittersweet tale interweaves figures from Icelandic mythology and personifications of the forces of nature with a human love story, as it follows the journey of two melancholic strangers – the anguished architect Vala, searching for answers to quell her disillusionment with life and the world, and Mundi, a wilderness guide injured in a climbing accident that left him emotionally scarred – who meet by chance at the lost luggage counter in the airport, then go their separate ways. But, as fate would have it, a Mayday incident ultimately brings them back together from their opposite paths across the icy terrain of a glacier to share the transcendent power of love, guided by the Mythic Beasts (or Landvættir) and the Hiddenfolk (or Huldufólk) – beings from the parallel realm of the Hidden World, whose energy drives them in the right direction.

Nancy McArthur, Perri Di Christina, and Oliver Demers. Photo by Stacia French.

Performed by an ensemble cast of fourteen and an eleven-piece chamber orchestra (Michael Alampi on flute, Christopher Cortez on cello, Sara Dudley on viola, Tamika Gorski on percussion, Daniel Gurevich on oboe, Storey Littleton on guitar, Joshua W. Marcum on double bass and electric bass, Hanan Rahman on French horn, Sunny Sheu on violin, Olga Volkova on keyboard, and Tiffany Wu on harp), led by music director and conductor Robert Kahn, each and every singer and musician is supremely talented and perfectly in tune with the sublime theme. Directed by Jones, the enthralling production features two distinctive styles of music and movement: Tinley’s singer-songwriter folk tradition, which gives a current voice to the humans (the stirring and powerful Nancy McArthur and Oliver Demers) and to which they move naturally; and the rich operatic score by Jones, masterfully sung by the mythic characters (played by Ariel Andrew, Marieke de Koker, Perri Di Christina, A.C. McCarthy, Matt Mueller, Nivi Ravi, Isabel Springer, Clayton Matthews, Matthew Morón, Carlos Pedroza, Andrew Wannigman, and Angela Yam) in combination with non-verbal sounds and spoken words in broken sentences, and expressionistic body movements, with emotive postures and gestures of their heads, bodies, hands, and arms.

Members of the ensemble. Photo by Bronwen Sharp.

The uniquely mysterious and magical work is enhanced by a minimal artistic design on a bare stage that impels us to use our imaginations, while evoking the essence of the characters and locales. Matthew Imhoff’s scenic design and lighting suggest the icy barren landscape and its cool tones, enhanced on three sides by Melody London’s projections, with animation by Kayla Berry, on strips of curtains through which the artists, movable pieces of scenery, and props by Madisen Frazier enter and exit. Costumes by Matsy Stinson differentiate between the contemporary everyday attire of the humans, the timeless clothing of the Hiddenfolk, and the identifying features of the creatures and elements of nature.

Angela Yam and ensemble. Photo by Stacia French.

Iceland is a profoundly affecting and transcendent work that enthralls and enraptures. There are only a few more performances left at La MaMa, so be sure to see it, and let it enchant you, while you can.

Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes, including an intermission.

Iceland: a reCreation Myth plays through Saturday, April 2, 2023, at La MaMa, 66 East 4th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $10-35, including fees), go online. Masks are no longer required but are recommended.


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