by Mike Telin

NOVAlogo“It’s David Lynch characters in a Dick Van Dyke setting doing Monty Python things,” said stage director Jonathon Field about Real Time Opera’s production of NOVA, which goes up on Thursday for three performances at Cleveland Public Theater. The production is a collaboration between Field, librettist Paul Schick and composer Lewis Nielson. “It’s raunchy, but sublime,” Field said.

The outrageous plot centers around a sales pitch for Nova, a life-sized android.

Salesman Ed tries to convince husband Al that purchasing the robot will make his life better. Nova is better at giving cocktail and dinner parties and knows how to make a great martini. She promises to be a more efficient and dependable love partner than wife Marlene. But even after a series of ten erotic escapades during a “dance” sequence based on Salome’s Dance of the Seven Veils, Ed’s still not sure.


(This might remind you of the film, Her, where a human male becomes enamored of a new operating system, but Schick wrote his libretto — in one three-day period — well before the movie came out.)

Schick casts the opera as a scathing indictment of “the superficiality of commercialized sexuality in which our culture is immersed.” He claims that the piece, grounded in the traditions of satire and political theater (think Aristophanes, Jonathan Swift and Bertholt Brecht) is “highly feminist,” but could be misunderstood (think Swift’s A Modest Proposal).


Audiences can decide for themselves on Thursday through Saturday, February 6-8 at the James Levin Theater at Cleveland Public Theater. Curtain time for NOVA is at 7 pm each evening and running time is 60-70 minutes. NOVA contains nudity and graphic sexual language — not suitable for minors.

Nielson conceived NOVA as a “Singspiel” with two speaking roles (Al and Ed), three mute actors and a chorus of four voices which functions “as a group of proselytizers who support the salesman” by singing jingles that most television watchers will immediately recognize. Two electric guitars, two percussionists and a canned laugh track fill out the ensemble.


“Instead of setting the text,” he says, “I set up a musical structure that is progressive and [surrounds] the action. For me, as the text develops both in the grotesqueness of the rhetoric as well as the tremendously affecting ironic relationship between the beauty and grace of the robot versus the tawdriness of the human beings, the importance of the music increases.” In the score, a note to the players says “this score permits some fairly wide latitude without being all that improvisational.”

The cast includes Emily Stys (NOVA), Dan Folino (Ed), Aaron Mucciolo (Al), Claudia Lillibridge (Marlene) and Greg Lavelle (Andy Gramps).


The chorus includes, from left to right: Joseph Trumbo, bass, Althea Bock-Hughes, mezzo, Seth Nachimson, tenor, and Rebecca Achtenberg, soprano.

Photos by John Seyfried.

Published on February 4, 2014

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