He introduces her to the garden, suggested through symbolic and expressionistic plays of light and color (Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew did the lighting design) projected onto the otherwise black, white and gray set — designed by Kristen Robinson with Richard Serra-like smears and speckles that extend to the shirts (by Kate Fry) of the JACK Quartet.
When the woman returns to bed, she tries to tell Man 2 about the garden, but he doesn’t believe her and tries to explain it away as a vivid dream. (His role, in a stroke of clever unity between the libretto and score, is plain-spoken: the language unpoetic, the words rarely spread over flowing musical phrases.) She tries to show him, but now the garden is dead, the flowers turned to ash, a bird fallen from the sky.
She eventually returns, on her own and desperate to revive the garden with the help of Man 1. But Man 2 comes back as well, creating a climactic triangle of the woman caught between one man arguing “She is mine! I am hers!” while the other cries “I am hers! She is mine!” She retreats and builds up the walls of her garden and then, liberated and protected, begins to restore its beauty.
It’s a precarious ending: Flowers may bloom, but a more colorless reality awaits outside. The quartet players pluck their strings in a slow fade, giving a sense of infinity, of the opera’s struggle playing out repeatedly. All the woman can do going forward, as Candide would say, is cultivate her garden.
The Miller Theater is in a similar position. Its nascent Chamber Opera Commissioning Initiative has so far provided women — as with Missy Mazzoli’s “Proving Up” last year — a literal stage in a field that historically has been dominated by men, and will continue to be for a long time. Even so, the Miller is doing its part, admirably, to foster a new kind of canon.
Through Oct. 17 at the Miller Theater, Manhattan; millertheatre.com.
This content was originally published here.