Table Manners

is a droll, rollicking and raging duet / duel about closeness, connection and greed for two sopranos, many desk-bells and about forty pounds of silverware.   The piece illuminates the struggle we have between creating actual connection with each other and settling for having material stuff instead, conveyed with comedy and drama punctuated by mercurial moments of true connection.

Based on a poem by Phillis Levin, the fight rolls out over the course of seven tours through the poem, with connections, disdain, theft and embarrassment accumulating with each iteration.  Despite being caught in a loop of mistrust the two women manage to nevertheless get closer without actually finding any steady state with each other.  They end locked in each other’s gaze, tantalized and terrified, unable to determine a next step.  

This work assumes that the origin of greed is the inability to form, sustain and commit to human connection.  Placing this generic human struggle on two women humanizes and opens up the interior of the ‘catfight’ stereotype.  The two characters each adopt a traditional 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 by two singers, the pandemic provided the opportunity to make a video:  Ariadne Greif proposed a ‘Parent Trap’ – like tour-de-force for one soprano.  The video format allows her to draw the two characters closer to each other and position them as two sides of the same mind. 

It is the first of a group of four ‘micro-operas’:  emotionally intense, surreal vignettes.  It’s likely that all will be based on texts by Phillis Levin.