Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Of Love and Monsters




The desire to be held looms large in T. De Los Reyes book of poetry And Yet Held. The fruition of that desire comes despite obstacles.


                                     …you looked at me from

across the room in a way that made me feel held.

Oh, how I am but skin fragmented by touch, from

which a little flower blooms amidst all the wreckage.

And, having been found, waits to be kissed.

[excerpt, “Debris”]



                                  …Can you hold me when I am

unbearable and especially then. What I mean when


I say thirst is your eyes drinking me in, telling me

you’ll dig through bones and cinders just to be here,


wherever here is.

[excerpt, “Forest Fire”]



                          …Wasn’t I scared of dying

collision, accidental fires, earthquakes…

I am terror struck by the monster living under

my skin…

And hadn’t you draped your shadow around

my shoulders saying, I will hold you, I will hold

you now and always…

[excerpt, “Umbra”]


And Yet Held is a love story with monsters and some of those monsters like the one named in “Umbra” reside in the narrator. In her seven-part poem “Monsters”, the poet deals with an all devouring and wild love which she compares to possibly a one-night stand that made the narrator feel the shame of racism and not being seen. The wild lover makes the narrator feel equally monstrous in a good way: “I am your/ leviathan among the woods” and unafraid of being seen: “No one can stop me/ from holding your hand,/ not even the demons that/ corrupt their heart.”


In this time where many poets, writers, and ordinary people speak of loneliness and heartbreak, this beautifully produced book with a hand touching flowers on its predominantly blue cover  (Durham, NC: Bull City Press, 2024) explodes with the galactic light of love:


                  …What I love about a ship going

to deep space is the proximity near light

and darkness and the reluctant decay of

days and years. When you kiss me I forget

my name. I forget myself. I recognize only

the skin and bones that house this body.

Permission to disturb the gods in slumber.

Permission to scatter, as if hundreds of fish

in the warm sea, as if an exploding star.
[excerpt, “Near Light”]



T. De Los Reyes, a Filipino poet and designer, is author of Woeman, a poetry chapbook. She has been published in such journals as Crazyhorse, Hobart After Dark, and Pleiades.



Friday, February 9, 2024

Esther: A Double Feature in Justice for Jews


Why does the story of the annihilation of Jews with a happy ending survive over centuries? In this time of rising Antisemitism, the Dresser raises this question after partaking of Opera Lafayette’s 90-minute concert production of Esther on February 8, 2024, at the John F. Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.


What particularly highlights this question is that Opera Lafayette is presenting in this production the work of two baroque composers—Jean-Baptiste Moreau and George Friderick Handel. Handel (1685 –1759), best known for his monumental oratorio The Messiah, was a Christian of German birth. The French born Jean Baptiste Moreau (1656 –1733) was also a Christian who started his life in music as a choirboy, worked in the court of Louis XIV, and contributed original music to the last plays of Jean-Baptiste Racine including Esther.


What the Dresser gleaned from the pre-show talk was that Racine’s play was written for the daughters of impoverished nobility in King Louis XIV’s court. These young girls were being educated by Madame Maintenon, who wished to instill a  level of moral receptivity.


The dual-composers production pleased the Dresser—the baroque music is wonderful. The singers, especially soprano Paulina Francisco as Esther and bass-baritone Jonathan Woody as Haman sang with notable authority. Francisco provided a smooth ease to the ornamentation required by the music for Esther. The musicians playing mostly contemporary instruments (e.g., violins, cello, double bass, oboe, bassoon, trumpet) and some period instruments (e.g., harpsichord and violone) played with noticeable gusto.


May 3 and 4, 2024, Opera Lafayette continues “The Era of Madame de Maintenon” with its fully staged production of Jean-Joseph Mouret’s Les FĂȘtes de Thalie. Kudos to Opera Lafayette for reviving an obscure opera like Esther which has relevance to contemporary concerns. 



 Portrait by Pierre Mignard, 1694



Monday, February 5, 2024

Sanctuary Road

 On February 4th, 2024, the Dresser attended Virginia Opera’s production of Sanctuary Road by composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell. The Center for the Arts, a George Mason Arts Venue, hosted this production. The story of Sanctuary Road is based on historical texts by William Still, a conductor of the Underground Railroad who aided close to 800 people in escaping slavery. In Still’s memoir The Underground Railroad Records (published 1872) are the stories of the people he helped. Some escape stories like the one of Box Brown, a man who nailed himself into a crate and got the crate mailed to Philadelphia where Blacks were free, were already familiar to the Dresser from other contemporary theater works. Nonetheless, these stories are important for the American public to hear since the racial fallout from the American Civil War, a war to end slavery, continues into the 21st Century.

The original Sanctuary Road was presented at Carnegie Hall in 2018 as an oratorio. This production had the underpinning of oratorio with a large chorus sitting in chairs on stage. The musical harmonies are rich and satisfying—something one would expect from an oratorio. The players, all excellent vocally,  performed in front of the chorus or around them. One through-line story was about a man running from his place of enslavement and thus he is seen running behind and through the chorus at several times during the production. 


The production was well done. The large orchestra conducted by Everett McCorvey never covered the singers’ voices. There were surtitles but the words were enunciated well and were understandable.


Moravec’s pleasing music is tonal and accessible. Surprisingly for the subject matter, Sanctuary Road seems to derive its inspiration from European classical music. No suggestion of spirituals. No gospel. No jazz. And no hint of African rhythms. Moravec, who is white, is a Pulitzer prize-winning composer for his work Tempest Fantasy which was inspired by William Shakespeare.


Sanctuary Road moves to Dominion Energy Center, Richmond, Virginia for two more performances on February 9 & 11, 2024.


Photo by Dave Pearson Photography