If you haven’t heard of Killsonic yet, you may as well been living under a rock. This large scale experimental music group has had various names used to describe their sound from avant-garde, gypsy, mobile orchestra, free jazz, and now you can add opera troupe to the mix. As long as you don’t call them a marching band you’ll be fine.
This past weekend Killsonic gave three sold out performances of their opera Tongues Bloody Tongues, written by Joseph Tepperman, at REDCAT. This excerpt of their larger street performance version included all the shock and awe tactics of musical warfare that you’ve come to expect from them. Breaking the mold of traditional theatre performances, Killsonic began with an explosion of sound in the lobby. Coming in from the parking lot, the horn, accordion, and percussion section, accompanied by the women’s choir equipped with megaphones, gave everyone a taste of what was to come and proceeded to the theatre.
From here Saddam Hussein gave the somber narrative, speaking on the history of Iraq and the story of Gertrude Bell, all while the band played ominous sounds at one point and chaotic explosions the next. The choir wore many hats, parrots interrupting Saddam’s monologues and deadly sirens singing of the sorrows and troubles of Gertrude. The musical direction helped set the mood strongly with the “orchestra” being so willing to take risks that paid off nicely.
The whole set and costume design of the performance had this vivid black and red post-apocalyptic feel to it that was aesthetically pleasing. From the Tower of Babel to the wall of tongues, the twisted and bizarre set enhanced the dark and dramatic performance. The cast all had a Tim Burton feel to them with their almost wax-figure-like makeup; and the choir looked as if they were all grabbed out of a couture version of Road Warrior—except the choir was definitely better looking.
The music took the opera through the highs and lows of the story quite well. Michael Anthony Ibarra showed his chops as a musical director and it did not disappoint. The musicianship and versatility of the band soared, giving everyone a taste of what a large-scale band can do when they don’t stick to traditional methods. Leah Harmon, who portrayed Gertrude Bell, was a definite highlight as well with her operatic singing and troubled ramblings.
Just as abruptly as the show began, it ended just the same. When the climax concluded, Killsonic walked off stage, the lights dimmed, and the crowd applauded. Yet everyone waited in their seats hoping they would come back for more.