This past Monday, the Gotham Chamber Opera, an organization dedicated to staging lesser-known works in intimate settings, held a production of La hija de Rappaccini at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The opera, composed by Daniel Catán and written by Juan Tovar, draws inspiration from a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne and a play by Octavio Paz. It first premiered in Mexico City in 1991, making it a truly contemporary opera – just ninety minutes in length and, though in Spanish, with a distinctly Italian sound.
Set in Naples, the story centers around the doomed romance of Giovanni (Daniel Montenegro), an idealistic student new to the city, and Beatriz (Elaine Alvarez), the daughter of ruthless scientist Rappaccini (Eric Dubin). Beatriz is rumored to be both beautiful and brilliant, but has little contact with the world outside her father’s home and garden, the latter of which is filled with poisonous plants. Rappaccini is a clearly Faustian figure whose weakness resides in his raw desire for scientific knowledge, even at the expense of human life. His carefully cultivated greenery is the poisonous fodder for his unethical experiments, to which Beatriz has become immune; unfortunately, her isolated lifestyle has also made her vulnerable to everything else in the world. Giovanni becomes enchanted with Beatriz from afar and, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that they cannot be together. As with many operas, the Biblical themes run deep, and the characters’ excesses lead to tragedy; interestingly, neither Rappaccini’s scientific approach to life and disdain for human sentiment, nor Giovanni’s impulsiveness without rationale are rewarded. Beatriz is an unfortunately typical feminine character with an entirely relational identity that shifts between her father and the man who courts her.
The experience of watching an opera outdoors is definitely a unique and satisfying one, allowing for a more relaxed atmosphere. It is particularly well suited to this work, as sitting among the trees and flowers of the Cherry Esplanade is reminiscent of being in a garden like Rappaccini’s. Blankets and food are allowed, but beer and wine can only be purchased at the venue. A spot closer to the stage is definitely preferable, as the screens with subtitles can be difficult to read from far away. The opera itself is enjoyable and a great evening for little cost. Go see it on Monday, June 24th at 7pm. Tickets are $35 and are available at www.ticketcentral.com or (212) 279-4200.