Workers prepare a futuristic gas, the only source of energy for the industrial world. They refuse to see a looming problem. Will there be anything left to reconstruct?
libretto conceived, composed & directed by Virlana Tkacz
music & libretto composed by Roman Grygoriv & Illia Razumeiko
choreography by Simon Mayer
set design by Waldemart Klyuzko
design associate: Yevhen Kopiov
live electronic music by Georgiy Potopalskiy
costume design by Tetiana Sherstiuk
light design by Maria Volkova (Kyiv)/Jeff Nash (NY)
sound design by Caley Monahon-Ward
with: Roman Grygoriv / conductor,
Illia Razumeiko / piano
Anna Kirsh / soprano
Maryana Holovko /soprano
Oleksandra Maillet /mezzo-soprano
Andrey Koshman / baritone
Ruslan Kirsh / baritone
Yevgeniy Rakhmanin / bass
Zhanna Marchinska / cello
Nazar Strilets / double bass
Andrey Nadolsky / drums
Ayk Egyian / percussion, vibraphone
Ihor Boychuk, trumpet, trombone, flute
Sergiy Shava / tuba
Oleh Nedashkivsky /French horn
December 19, 20 & 22, 2019 La MaMa in New York
6/11/2019: Ukrainian premiere presented at the Franko Theater in Kyiv
11/11/2018: Excerpts presented at the “Kurbas: New Worlds” Kyiv exhibit
"The Opera GAZ" was composed by Roman Grygoriv and Illia Razumeiko, who head Kyiv’s NOVA OPERA. It was conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, artistic director of YARA ARTS GROUP from La MaMa Experimental Theatre in New York.
We witnessed the workers prepare their powerful commodity, a futuristic gas that has become the only source of energy for the entire industrial world. They glimpsed, but refuse to see the looming problem. Their self-centered-praise and jingoism, eventually unleash their own rage against the machine and each other.
“And God created the heavens and the earth, people, animals and plants, and all the elements but we created for them the energy for the entire industrial world"
GAZ by Virlana Tkacz
Press in New York - performances at La MaMa December 2019
Human robots, worker ants, industrial hell, machines going beserk—OPERA GAZ! GAS, a word like a scream engulfing space! Gas, an element permeating space! Gas, an energy that can kill! Gas, an industrial product and present in the bowels of the earth! GAS is silent until it explodes! The Ellen Stewart Theatre LaMaMa presented the audience with a theatrical explosion—Opera GAZ imported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Virlana Tkacz, director of the Yara Arts Group in New York, created with the ensemble of Nova Opera Kyiv a production that is partly historical recovery, partly revolutionary music theater.
Inspired by Les Kurbas’s 1923 theater production in Kyiv of “Gas I,”part of a trilogy (The Coral, Gas I and Gas II) written between 1916 and 1923 by the German Expressionist playwright Georg Kaiser (1878-1945), Ms. Tkacz, together with composer/performers Roman Grygoriv (also conductor) and Illia Razumeiko (on the piano), conceived and composed the libretto, with live electronic music by Georgiy Potopalskiy. Live music on stage included superb musicians: cellist Zhanna Marchinska, double bass Nazar Strilets, Andrey Nadolsky percussionist, Ayk Egyian on vibraphone and percussion, Ihor Boychuk on trumpet, trombone, and flute, Sergiy Shava on tuba, and Oleg Nedashkivsky on French horn. I mention the musicians first because it is music that holds the performance together and drives it with all its varied colors from electronic sound manipulation to operatic scoring-- at one point Verdi inspired melodious ensembles and arias-- to percussive industrial and bomber airplane noises until the final act of absolute destruction and chaos.
The ensemble of singer/actors of two sopranos, Anna Kirsh and Maryana Holovko, mezzo-soprano Oleksandra Maillet, baritones Andrey Koshman and Ruslan Kirsh, and bass Yevgeniy Rakhmanin are remarkable performers who execute the intricate dynamic choreography by Simon Mayer with precision and full engagement whether as robotic workers with stylized hammers or in almost trance-like state of utopian human romance or ultimately as a furious mob destroying themselves and their tyrannical environment—the gas factory--with their relentless ubiquitous mad clown dictators, conductor and pianist, superbly embodied by nimble Grygoriv and Razumeiko .
The ever-flexible space of the Ellen Stewart Theatre allowed for a constructivist modernistic set, designed by Waldemart Klyuzko, Evhen Kopiov, and Watoku Ueno. It is somewhat reminiscent of the skeletal 1920s stages, inspired by Piscator, with platforms for the musicians and their instruments, movable steel pipes of varying lengths attached to the central upright piano, which could be handled by the actors with mechanical motions to alter the piano sound. The background was dominated by four huge concentric glass circles of lights, reminiscent of the architectural bands of glass that adorned modern factories designed by Walter Gropius in the first decades of the 20th century. The metallic appendages and stylized metal tools used by the actors during the performance emphasized the industrial feel visually and aurally. Tetiana Sherstiuk designed for the workers grey unisex coverall costumes with cloth boot covers that looked as though made for work in nuclear plants. Lighting design by Jeff Nash and sound engineering by Caley Monahon-Ward completed the environmental effects of a factory moving inexorably towards the brink of disaster.
La MaMa must be congratulated for bringing this astounding work to NYC—unfortunately, there were only three performances.
Beate Hein Bennett, New York Theatre Wire, December 23, 2019
Gas is the power driven blood of the industrial world’s ubiquitous engine. Gas is about seeking out hidden chthonic death in difficult places where ancient animals and plants died eventually decaying then compressed into a liquid mass. We all know how gas rises to the surface then is refined for our human use. But what happens socially when it rests in a gas plant. What are the dramatic possibilities and interactions? Are humans and gas compatible or is gas a jealous lover/antagonist?
Opera GAZ is Yara Arts Group’s reinterpretation of George Keiser’s 1919 Expressionist play about an explosion in a Ukrainian gas refinery. This version is one of the most searing intentional modernist operas I’ve ever seen. From the giant halo of blinking lights to the details of the Modernist designed piano, no essence of Opera GAZ’s theatricality is left unnoticed. I was moved into another world of music and song where worker/singers in drab costumes enrich and reposition their lives as workers will do on the job with conflict, love and existential angst.
Roman Grygoriv, one of the opera’s composers and librettists onstage plays a manic music ensemble conductor in the exposed risers and on the factory floor. His gyrations, dancing, and general chaotic movement attract the eye as the multi-talented singers form different choral lineups that project the difficulty of working around dangerous materials. The highly charged libretto moved me to spine-tingling expectation of the inevitable accident to come. All is not right in happy socialist worker land.
Every factory floor needs a stand up brothel piano to pace the workers and keep the rhythms of production apace with the boss’s schedule. Composer and librettist Illia Razumeiko plays an altered, decorated piano as if he were in Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis. This caricatured pianist slowly becomes unhinged and altered as the workers sing their way to the combustive crescendo of utter madness and real destruction. The pianist and piano descend into a shattering finale that burst my brain. I was glad to see and hear it. Could Yara/Novo do the same every performance? I’m left with questions about the mystery of this brilliant unique opera. Ms. Tkacz’s direction stunned me. There was total audience silence throughout the performance. The end of this opera cross-fired my brain. Finally an apocalyptic theater piece that left me wanting to see it resurrected from the ashes of its infernal chaos. A must see if you hear it is being remounted.
Larry Littany Litt, New York Theatre Wire, Dec 22, 2019
One of Yara Arts Group’s most ambitious productions, Opera Gaz is a masterful synthesis of many components. The connection between Yara Arts Group and Nova Opera is magical. Olena Jennings, Our Life, March 2020.
Press in Kyiv - performance at Franko National Theatre June 2019
I" had 3 reactions to Opera GAZ:
- GAZ was an exorcism to drive out the demon of socialist realism from Ukrainian culture
- it brought together times severed by the Soviet Secret Police
- it was a warning -- people must not to turn into zombies or disembodied angels blowing their trumpets into the void. Machines must not rule people and people must not become machines."
Irina Shtohrin, Radio Svoboda, June 11, 2019
Futurism, expressionism and techno-punk come together in this post-apocalyptic opera. Subtitled an anti-utopia, it refers us to Frankenstein, Hasek, Zamyatin, the film “Metropolis” and other projects to create “a new man,” so popular in the 1920s. Here we have technologists generating new people-workers, a composer-creator of music showing them how to listen to music and recreate it (we see clear traces of Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction) and a conductor, who models and rehearses the new people, teaching them how to create mechanical music (the symphony of factories, of metal pipes and hammers.) The artist-God-creator tempts us with music for the Cherubim with angelic voices, then launches a mechanical cacophony. Of course, the robots learn to imitate all culture/music. In time they actually transform into the ordinary people they resemble. The attempt to create a new world violates the laws of nature, harmony turns into cacophony, GAZ explodes, and entropy rules. The world is knocked off its rhythm, the human dies, and we have the birth of totalitarian (mass, mechanical) people. The conductor can train them how to march in columns, direct them to be all as one, so the totalitarian person is born. They only needs to hear the rhythm, and will mechanically reproduce it. “The Party Leads the Way” by Pavlo Tychyna sets this rhythm.
The end of civilization, people and culture? Three angels of the Apocalypse proclaim the end of the world. The artist-creator – really a “deus ex machina” – appears at the final moment in a gas-mask, insane and confused, declaring that cacophony has changed music. Harmony is destroyed, just like God Is Dead, and humanity is dead. Walking out of the theatre I heard one young man say “it’s totally logical.” I’m not sure what he meant, but I agree.
Tamara Hudorova in Kyiv Daily 6/20/19
GAZ - is an exciting story about humans and technology. Like all art that refuses to compromise, this production presents us with a choice of interpretations. You can see it as the story of human evolution, a drama about the death of music, a conflict between an individual and society, or the revolutionary versus totalitarianism. You can even see it as a metaphor for how Russian gas is transported [through our country] to Europe.
But what I think is most important in GAZ is the palpable and constant foreboding of a great explosion, which drives this performance. Any person living in 2019 finds themselves in its epicenter. Technological, economic, social, and political crisis rage – authoritarian regimes, mechanized life surround us -- all this is in GAZ.
And then there is the finale, the performers destroy the piano – a real rock-event you can’t even see at rock concerts these days. This is honest – it’s from the heart.
Karabas-live – Ihor Panasov
Virlana Tkacz’s production of GAZ conveys the spirit of the avant-garde of the early 20th century, but it is an absolutely new, original work. Tkacz places movement at the forefront of the performance. The spinning singers chanted “Gaz,” the “noise” of their hammers against the metal pipes, the eccentric rhythm of the instruments, the fiery yellow flares (lights by Maria Volkova) and the rhythm of the great throbbing circles of light -- all yelled about one thing: here pulse the living hearts of workers today, the great grandchildren of Kurbas’s workers. The point of no return is crossed – the mechanism is set in motion. The collective led by conductor Roman Grygoriv surrounds a sacred altar – the prepared piano and starts to turn into robots…
The finale explodes. After a scene where the engineer plays the piano with his feet and an emotionally heightened pitch is reached, the workers destroy the root of all their problems – the piano. This was a real happening for Ukrainian theatre, the auditorium up in arms, total chaos on stage.
Three women in white with long horns -- like three angels in a baroque painting – were left on stage alone. The appearance of the Engineer in a robot mask, like Stravinsky’s Petrushka, left many questions. Who is more reliable people or robots? Can we control ourselves? Will others explode? There were many horrible explosions in the 20th century. What else can happen? What else can explode?
Yulia Shkromyda, Meloport, June 27, 2019
"The lights go out and the fire wall goes up. On stage the vocalists are in work clothes. The set looks like a factory. The artists sing as in a strange dream, their movements are halting. That is how opera GAZ inspired by Les Kurbas’s show starts in the production by Virlana Tkacz with Nova Opera. Downstage the composer Ilya Razumeiko is a puppet master directing the workers with the help of a prepared piano.
The voices shift from whispering to ringing out hysterically, enchanting us with their relentless mechanical rhythm. Time and again the actors mercilessly bang their hammers on the metal pipes.
All at once the music changes, the range of sounds grows - the actor's movements quicken, they break out of their confinement and while singing, they destroy the piano, the “tyrant” that lords over them, using their work tools to demolish the devil’s instrument that controls them. Upstage the drums detonate like a series of explosions. Lights pour down on the stage like at a rock concert. The cello and double bass meld into the electronic track created by Georgiy Potopalsky. In a word, it’s like nothing in classical opera in Ukraine today.
The hour and a half show ended with wild applause. How sad that this unique opera will not be shown in Kyiv again soon."
Anastasia Platanova Focus, June 29, 2019
NOVA OPERA presented IVOY last year as part of the Prototype Festival. YARA ARTS GROUP has been a resident company at La MaMa since 1990. We joined forces to create GAZ, which was first presented in a workshop production on Nov 11, 2018, as a special event of the "Kurbas: New Worlds" Exhibition at the Art Arsenal in Kyiv.
NOVA OPERA is an organization of young Ukrainian artists founded in 2014 by director Vlad Troitsky. Its goal is the creation of innovative opera performances and the exploration of new genres and methods of expressions. The company also seeks to represent contemporary Ukrainian music theatre on the world stage. After an initial experiment with improvization, an opera “Corialanus” (2014), the artists went on to work with composers Roman Grygoriv and Illia Razumeiko. In three seasons (2015-2018) they created the following multidisciplinary performances: opera-requiem “IYOV,” opera circus “Babylon,” opera ballet “Ark,” dream opera “UnSimple,” trap opera “Wozzeck,” horror opera “Hamlet,” and the futuristic opera “Aerophonia.” Productions created by NOVA OPERA have been performed in Ukraine, Poland, Macedonia, Austria, Denmark, Holland, France and the USA. The current roster of artists includes six singers (sopranos Maryanna Golovko and Anna Marych, mezzo-soprano Oleksandra Mailliet, baritones Andrey Koshman and Ruslan Kirsh, bass Yevgeniy Rakhmanin), as well as cellist Zhanna Marchynska and percussionist Andrey Nadolskiy.