With the near-revolutionary uproar in Egypt lately, President Mubarak must be feeling a bit like Pharaoh, his ancient predecessor: beset on all sides by plagues of twittering creatures and restive subjects anxious to escape bondage. And so Mosheh seems unexpectedly topical: This new Hebrew-language opera by Yoav Gal re-imagines Moses’s formative years in Egypt as a prophet and future rebel. But despite being billed as a “contemporary urban hallucination,” little here is contemporary or urban. Instead, the piece lists awkwardly between myth’s archaic past and the sci-fi future suggested by its bizarre costumes.
Moses’s early life unfolds in slow-moving, abstract tableaux set to shimmering songscapes: the patriarch’s babyhood boating among the reeds; his sojourn at the Egyptian court; an emergency circumcision by his wife as a prophylactic measure against demons (a scene left out of The Ten Commandments); his rapturous selection as God’s earthly spokesman. Panoramic projections supply rippling waves, allegorical scenes, and relevant scraps of biblical verse.
Mosheh is a very uneven experience. Sequences in which the crotchety Old Testament deity delivers marching orders to Moses (Nathan Guisinger) are quite ravishing: in an obelisk-shaped light-box, the disembodied mouths of two singers appear in small apertures, intoning eerie liturgical harmonies. Meanwhile, another mouth, huge and distorted, is projected onto a scrim—literally swallowing Moses. The burning bush is a bundle of fiber-optic cables, glowing tendrils flowering with bouquets of tiny, winking points of light.
Director Kameron Steele doesn’t always match this level of ingenuity. Too often, the score’s stately tempos are paired with portentous slo-mo posing—Robert Wilson lite. And campiness is a constant threat: Moses’s adoptive mother, Bitia (Heather Green), exerts sinister influence with a gesture resembling a Vulcan mind meld. The lunatic costumes, like castoffs from a Eurotrash space opera, don’t help either—Bitia’s semi-buttless purple getup looks like an Ikea laundry bag mated with Cruella Deville.
Supposedly, the piece is set in latter-day New York, but except for fleeting video footage of cars and graffiti-daubed pillars, you’d never know it. And what does it really mean—beyond license for multimedia and weird outfits—to place Moses’s lonely strivings in the desolate reaches between the East River and the BQE? Perhaps one day he’ll grow up to lead the hipsters out of their Willyburg captivity to discover Bushwick.