REVIEW: ‘Unholy Wars’ is powerful, full of emotions
As busy as Grammy winner and tenor Karim Sulayman (who just performed solo at Carnegie Hall on May 19), he brings all his energy to unholy wars, making the opera visually stunning, emotionally charged and vocally powerful. The only potential downside is that audiences may rely too heavily on subtitles to understand the story being told.
unholy wars is an opera that features marginalized voices to reframe a poem about the conflicts between Christians and Muslims during the Crusades. Christian knight Trancedi (John Taylor Ward) falls in love with a Muslim warrior (Raha Mirzadegan). Trancedi kills her in battle without recognizing her under her armor.
The songs in the opera are in Italian, so unless the audience speaks it and understands it well, they will need some help. And that’s exactly what the big screen behind the performers on stage is for: viewers can see the subtitles as the characters sing and move throughout the show. Subtitles are very normal in opera, but in this case it was very difficult to pay attention to them because there was a lot going on on stage.
Onstage, technicians project intricate visuals that appear drawn with white pastel paint and depict beautiful cities and buildings approaching or receding to set the scene. There are also fires and battlefields appearing in battle times and moving waves on the beach. The on-screen visuals are clearly meant for the stage and not a movie, but Sulayman goes for artistry over realism, and that seems fitting.
There are also, interestingly, a few water and sand elements on stage. Performers use buckets of water to pour water onto the stage, then bend over and spray it while singing and dancing a bit. Eventually, the performers bring holy water to their faces at the end to seemingly wash away their sins.
The Coral Dolphin dancer often throws sand in the air as she dances, imaginatively bringing the Middle Eastern desert to Charleston. The dolphin dance is impressive and energetic. His sandblasting in the air is fun and brings a mystical twist to the story. Although the audience may wonder why she is there and how she is part of the story. Does it just add to the multidisciplinary art form on stage, bringing dance to the stage? Or does she serve as a shadow or collaborator for Sulayman as he tells the story on stage? It could be both, but some clarification might be helpful.
There are also emotional and passionate performances from Sulayman and his other singing companions. Sulayman not only created this show, but he is also an ubiquitous performer on stage. Sulayman narrates the story throughout the show. It’s a solid track and a whole lot of fun to watch – every emotion is on its face.
Meanwhile, Mirzadegan’s voice is beautiful, and it also fills her face and movements with emotion, showcasing her character’s deep struggles in an effective and moving way. As her character perishes, Mirzadegan remains on stage and shares her strong vocal talents.
Ward is also good and plays the bad guy well – his character seems to have a strong point of view as a Christian leader who opposes Muslims. The conflict and confusion in his expressions when he finds out he killed someone he loved is clearly felt. When he sings, he feels opposite to the others, most logically because he is the only bass-baritone that makes his voice unique and solidifies him nicely as a villain, though Sulayman and Mirzadegan overshadow him with their powerful voices. tenor and soprano.
Each interpreter is present and talented on stage. Sulayman, Ward, Mirzadegan, and Dolphin, in particular, seem to like the story they tell. Their song seizes the theater, vibrates until the last places of the public. The Italian language enhances the songs and makes everything more magnificent.
Gabriel Veiga is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications program at Syracuse University.
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