The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five

Philip Glass and British author Doris Lessing have turned two of the five novels in Lessing’s metaphysical sci-fi series, “Canopus in Argos: Archives,” into operas: The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 premiered in Houston in 1988, and The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five premiered in Germany in ’97. This week the DePaul Opera Theatre–a mixed student and professional company–will give the first American performances of Marriages, under the direction of Harry Silverstein. It’s by far the most ambitious project the ensemble has tackled: not only does it call for a complement of almost 100 performers, but Glass’s alien, metronomic, subtly shifting vocal parts are notoriously hard for singers to master. Silverstein should feel right at home, though: he worked on Representative in Houston and directed its European premiere with the English National Opera, and in the 90s cemented an association with Glass staging revivals of Satyagraha and Akhnaten. (Glass has even involved himself in this production, adding some passages to the score and personally approving each of the eight students singing the principal roles.) Silverstein has worked wonders in his 13 years at DePaul, despite limited financial resources and casts that often have to juggle rehearsals and classes; he has a masterful grasp of narrative rhythm and can make the most of a sparse set. Marriages is an allegory of male-female relationships: following the dictates of the benevolent Providers, who hope to reconcile the different regions of their planet, the king of the militant, hierarchical Zone Four marries in turn the queen of Zone Three, which is benign and loving, and the queen of the turbulent, savage Zone Five. As in all of Glass’s operas since Akhnaten, the libretto actually advances the story–it helps that Lessing’s text is in English, not Akkadian. Another innovation for Glass is the use of a 60-voice chorus, instead of strings, to provide the undulations and repetitions that permeate his music (the 28-piece orchestra, which consists mostly of DePaul faculty, includes only one violin and one cello, amplified to play solos). DePaul veteran Robert Kaminskas conducts. Thursday and Saturday, June 7 and 9, 7:30 PM, and Sunday, June 10, 2 PM, Merle Reskin Theatre, 60 E. Balbo; 312-922-1999.