Arts & Culture

Dreams and classics come alive in ‘Nighttown’

Photos by Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

2 min read

‘Ulysses’ and ‘Odyssey’ are reimagined

To some, tackling two of the literary canon’s most notoriously difficult classics would be a nightmare. But to composer and librettist Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg ’22, it was a dream opportunity. His “Nighttown” simultaneously reimagines James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and Homer’s “Odyssey,” creating a haunting existential parable that explores the complexity of modern relationships. His Molly Bloom is awakened from sleep by a bolt of chromatic blue light while Stephen Dedalus sings a heart-wrenching plea; a dark liturgy evokes Mahler’s symphonies as the character Boylan floats across the stage, gripping a streetlamp with wheels on the bottom.

In pursuit of his vision for “contemporary opera for contemporary times,” Wenzelberg also reimagined the character of Bella Cohen, who runs a brothel in “Ulysses,” as Bell* Cohen — an explicitly genderfluid role whose music can be sung in different octaves depending on the voice of the performer.

“Benjy Wenzelberg’s ‘Nighttown’ is remarkable. To have penned either the work’s skillful libretto, or its intriguing musical score, alone would have been achievement enough; but to have created both, crafting them into a compelling musico-dramatic narrative — one which advances the operatic genre — is, indeed, extraordinary,” musical director and University organist Edward Jones said. “I know that this work will have a long and illustrious life beyond its hallowed walls.”

Benjy Wenzelberg conducts the orchestra and singers via livestream.
Caroline Olsen performs as Molly Bloom and Erin Merceruio Nelson is The Nymph as the two rehearse their blocking.
Benji Wenzelberg (left) conducts Nathan Le ’22.
Nathan Le ’22, who performs as first cellist and whirly tube expert.

Benjy Wenzelberg (left) conducts Nathan Le ’22, who performs as first cellist and whirly tube expert.

Pianist Lucas Amory ’24 marks the score before a dress rehearsal.
Benjy Wenzelberg (left) and co-producer Lily Winston Grob ’22 share perspectives during rehearsal. “I am incredibly grateful to have helped bring this incredible production to life and look forward to seeing where Benjy and ‘Nighttown’ go next,” said Grob.
Lucas Amory gives a virtuoso performance in historic Sanders Theatre.

Arhan Kumar ’23 (left) rehearses the role of Stephen Dedalus under the direction of stage director and executive producer Adrienne Boris and production manager Kailey Bennett.

Leo Balkovetz (front) plays Buck Mulligan and Kathryn Tolley.
Leo Balkovetz (front) plays Buck Mulligan and Kathryn Tolley portrays Calypso while rehearsing Act I.