Synopsis: Table Manners is an operatic music video about closeness, trust and greed for two sopranos and about forty pounds of silverware. Set in a bare, futuristic café, it illuminates the struggle between finding connection with each other and settling for having material stuff, conveyed with comedy and drama.
Using a poem by Phillis Levin as a ground bass, the duet escalates with each loop through the poem, with disdain, theft and embarrassment accumulating in each iteration. Despite being caught in a detent of mistrust the two women nevertheless head toward each other. Each adopts a strategy for control: one is cold and condescending while the other is warm and seductive. However, both are easily distracted by ‘shopping’ the silverware and so they battle on two fronts: for finding actual connection with each other, for amounts of wealth, and within each heart, for their choice between pursuing connection vs. wealth.
While the work was originally created for live performance, the pandemic prevented that. Making a music video was the brainchild of Ariadne Greif, who commissioned it in the first place. The video allows her to draw the two characters closer to each other and position them as two sides of the same mind, in a way that’s not as easily created in a live performance.
Mary Birnbaum directs opera and theatre, old and new, in New York (Rape of Lucretia, The Magic Flute and Eugene Onegin at Juilliard; The Classical Style at Carnegie Hall) as well as internationally, from Taiwan (Otello) to Central America (L’elisir at the National Theatre of Costa Rica and La Bohème in Guatemala), Australia and Israel, and across the U.S. (Opera Philadelphia, Seattle Opera, Opera Columbus, Virginia Arts Festival, Ojai Festival, Bard, and Boston Baroque). Her November production of Luigi Rossi’s L’Orfeo was just named “Top Classical Music of 2021” by the New York Times.
In 2019, Mary became only the 3rd female director to open the Santa Fe Opera season with a new production of La Bohème. Concurrently, her production of Dido and Aeneas played Opera Holland Park in London and at Opéra de Versailles.
Currently Associate Director of the post-graduate Artist Diploma in Opera Studies program at Juilliard, Mary also has taught acting for singers at Bard College and in the Lindemann Young Artists Program at the Metropolitan Opera. A graduate of Harvard College, Mary trained professionally in physical theater at L’Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris.
As writer and translator, Mary’s English translation of The Barber of Seville, set in the 1990’s in Florida, premiered at Opera Columbus in February 2020. She also has written and directed filmed and video adaptations of classical pieces, most recently Obscura Nox, a film of Mozart’s ”Exsultate, Jubilate” with interpolated music by the contemporary Canadian-Persian composer Iman Habbibi, which is available on Helio Arts. www.marybirnbaum.com