There are times when the apocalypse may be warranted. That’s a statement I never thought I’d even consider making, but after seeing M. Lamar’s stunning operatic masterpiece, “Destruction” at Abrons Art Center, I’ve come around on it. (The show runs tomorrow at 10 pm and is part of the American Realness Festival.) The libretto (co-written by Lamar and Tucker Culbertson) tells a retribution story from the perspective of a black descendent of slaves. Distraught over the loss of life that occurred during times of slavery, segregation and neo-segregation, he calls the dead back to life. When they wake, they are very, very unhappy.
For a story that’s told from the seat of piano, there’s an enormous amount of drama. Part of this has to do with the set and costume design. Lamar plays and sings the full length of the performance clad in black studded leather while the black and white projections that make up the sets by Sabin Michael Calvert include images of coffins, dead people, and church windows obscured by smoke and flame. Nothing about this performance says “happy times”. (Lamar describes himself as a Negrogothic Devil worshipping free black man in the blues tradition.)
The most truly awe inspiring moments of the performance, though, are all delivered by Lamar. The building literally shook as Lamar sung out, calling for the resurrection of those who had been murdered. Once risen, the dead promise to kill all white people. “We’re demons coming at you” he sings, adding ominously, “None of you will make it out alive.”
I shivered. The call was genuinely shocking yet bizarrely compelling in the context of the opera. That’s not to say I was readying my own white body for sacrifice, but certainly had a better understanding of the rage such suffering provokes.
Later, in the calm of reflection, I began to think of City Opera’s attempts to remain relevant to the city’s younger generation. Before shuttering in 2013 they launched a series operas they hoped would strike a chord with this generation, including the soulless “Power Her Face”, a performance the media circus surrounding Duchess of Argyll’s sexual exploits. A big deal was made out of the fact that there was a blow job scene that began with 25 naked dudes on stage, but in the end there was nothing shocking or new about the performance. Lamar was what they needed.