A Climate Opera Arrives in New York, With 21 Tons of Sand

On a wet morning final week, a seashore arrived on the entrance door of a theater in Brooklyn.

Or a minimum of the uncooked elements for one: 21 tons of sand, packaged in 50-pound luggage, 840 of them. Wheeled into the BAM Fisher on pushcart dollies, they have been unceremoniously dropped onto the theater’s tarp-covered ground with a boring thud.

Once opened and unfold round, the sand would kind the muse of “Sun & Sea (Marina),” an installation-like opera that received the highest prize on the Venice Biennale in 2019 and has emerged as a masterpiece for the period of local weather change. Neither didactic nor summary, it’s an insidiously pleasurable mosaic of consumption, globalization and ecological disaster. And its subsequent cease is the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the place it opens on Wednesday and runs via Sept. 26.

Over 20 tons price of sand have been delivered to the BAM Fisher for the manufacturing in 50-pound luggage.Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

“The way it delivers its ideas, it’s totally surprising,” stated David Binder, BAM’s creative director. “It disarms you and lures you in. That’s not the way we’re used to receiving work about the issues of our day — what we’re all facing in this summer of fires and floods and what we’ve done to the planet.”

For the work’s creators — Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte — the reception of “Sun & Sea,” solely their second collaboration, has been one thing of a Cinderella story, as they stated in a latest video interview. But as a lot as it’s a fairy story, the work is the fruit of a friendship that started in the Lithuanian city the place all of them grew up.

Barzdziukaite finally grew to become a director; Grainyte, a author; Lapelyte, a musical artist. In working collectively, they have been drawn to opera, they stated, as a result of it offered “a meeting place” for his or her particular person practices. As a trio, Grainyte added, “we can listen to each other and dive into this process without fighting or dealing with egos.”

The sand was used to create an indoor seashore for “Sun & Sea,” which makes use of the setting for a musical meditation on local weather change and globalization.Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

Their first challenge was “Have a Good Day!,” which traveled to New York for the Prototype competition in 2014. Like “Sun & Sea” it approached its topic — the ideas of grocery store cashiers, and cycles of consumption — with a light-weight contact. The solid of 10 singers, all girls to evoke a typical retailer in Lithuania, shared tales that charmed till, in their accumulation, they took on the nauseating extra of the photographer Andreas Gursky’s equally themed “99 Cent.”

“The idea was to have this zoom-in approach using micro narratives,” Grainyte stated, “but also being conscious that we also belong to this part of buying and selling circles.”

It was essential to the three creators that, whereas bitterly ironic, “Have a Good Day!” was not polemical. “We tried to really avoid the ‘one truth’ because it’s never black and white,” Lapelyte stated. “That goes the same with ‘Sun & Sea.’ When we talk about the climate crisis, it’s never coming with one view.”

Credit…George Etheredge for The New York TimesCredit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

“Sun & Sea” is extra formidable: nonetheless refined, intimate and haunting, however sprawling in scale. From a sliver of sand, Barzdziukaite, Grainyte and Lapelyte extract broad implications. The seashore, in spite of everything, is a battleground of the Anthropocene that each embraces and defies nature. It’s a vacation spot deemed price flying all over the world, expelling tons of carbon, to easily lounge on — although not and not using a heavy dose of sunscreen to keep away from a burn, or worse.

The characters in Grainyte’s libretto, which is each plain-spoken and poetic, are overworked and over-traveled, each self-righteously towards expertise’s intrusion in their lives and welcoming of it. Their tales are informed as monologues and vignettes, damaged up by choruses of sinister serenity.

Often, the characters are oblivious. “What a relief that the Great Barrier Reef has a restaurant and hotel!” one girl sings. “We sat down to sip our piña coladas — included in the price! They taste better under the water, simply a paradise!” Her husband appears unaware that his burnout isn’t so totally different from that of the earth itself as he sighs melodically, “Suppressed negativity finds a way out unexpectedly, like lava.”

“Sun & Sea” in Venice, the place it received the highest prize on the Venice Biennale in 2019.Credit…Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times

Some characters discover magnificence in the horrors of fashionable life. “The banana comes into being, ripens somewhere in South America, and then it ends up on the other side of the planet, so far away from home,” one sings. “It only existed to satisfy our hunger in one bite, to give us a feeling of bliss.”

Another, in probably the most unforgettable picture of the opera, observes:

Rose-colored clothes flutter:
Jellyfish dance alongside in pairs —
With emerald-colored luggage,
Bottles and crimson bottle caps.

O the ocean by no means had a lot shade!

“We didn’t want to be too declarative,” Barzdziukaite stated. “At some point, Vaiva was taking off all the words which were dealing with ecological issues directly.” The last work amounted to about half of what was written.

Credit…George Etheredge for The New York TimesCredit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

What they didn’t need was to offer the impression that they have been local weather activists. “It would be unfair to say that,” Grainyte stated. “If we were activists, we wouldn’t create this work that is traveling the world.” (The manufacturing isn’t probably the most eco-friendly: For the BAM presentation, all that sand was transported by truck from VolleyballUSA in New Jersey to Brooklyn.)

But that doesn’t imply “Sun & Sea” avoids duty by design. Political artwork is a spectrum, and its creators are conscious that they’re wrestling with unwieldy and pressing subjects; they only need their opera to “activate,” as Lapelyte put it.

Crucial to that impact are, past the textual content, the music and visible presentation. The digital rating — earworm after earworm — gives minimal accompaniment for the singers, and was written to replicate the convenience of leisure.

After “Sun & Sea” closes, the sand shall be vacuumed up, sanitized and repurposed.Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

“We wanted it to be quite poppy, that it would remind you of a song that you know well but you can’t say which,” Lapelyte stated. “And at the same time it’s very much reduced to very few notes, and it’s also repetitive like a pop song.”

The motion, whereas largely improvised by volunteers who flesh out the solid, is obsessively managed by Barzdziukaite. Participants are requested to reach sporting particular colours (principally calming pastels). While the roughly hourlong opera is sung in a loop, they’re instructed to not appear to be performing, nor to acknowledge the viewers. For the performers, the expertise shouldn’t be any totally different from a visit to the seashore.

“We are very much using this documentary approach in every aspect,” Barzdziukaite stated. Observant viewers members would possibly discover how casually plastic fills the area; a pair of partially buried headphones, or some deserted toys, shall be acquainted sights.

Michael Torres, a member of BAM’s stage crew, taking a break whereas bringing in the luggage of sand.Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

In Venice, audiences left “Sun & Sea” to be confronted by numerous low-cost souvenirs and towering cruise ships. When the run ended, the town was flooded. Heavy rain will even have preceded the piece’s arrival in Brooklyn, with the storm carrying the remnants of Hurricane Ida having killed over 40 folks in New York and three neighboring states. None of that is misplaced on the creators, who discover themselves wrestling with what it means to make refined artwork in a world whose pure disasters more and more have the heavy-handedness of agitprop.

“I feel like I’m living in a dissonance and asking myself what’s next and how I should behave,” Grainyte stated.

Those who attend the BAM manufacturing would possibly discover themselves asking comparable questions. They received’t see tchotchkes crowding Venetian retailers, however maybe on the way in which house they are going to take one other take a look at the rubbish on the subway tracks or the cabinets of miniature Empire State Buildings in Midtown.

If there’s any waste they shouldn’t be anxious about, it’s all that sand. After “Sun & Sea” closes, it will likely be vacuumed up, sanitized and repurposed as a seashore volleyball court docket, perhaps, or as a playground. But most likely by no means once more as an opera.

Sun & Sea (Marina)

Wednesday via Sept. 26 at BAM Fisher, Brooklyn; bam.org.