Glimpses through the Ocean Fog: Selkie, A Sea Tale

 L-R: Cellist Patrick Moore, dancer Meg Brooker, pianist Kyle Evans, soprano Misha Penton. Photo by Jerry McCallum. Selkie, a sea tale. Composer Elliot Cole's haunting neo-Romantic chamber opera, a setting of fairytale poetry by soprano Misha Penton.
Patrick Moore, Meg Brooker, Kyle Evans, Misha Penton, Yelena Konetchy
Photo by Jerry McCallum.
Selkie, a sea tale. Composer Elliot Cole’s haunting neo-Romantic chamber opera, a setting of fairytale poetry by soprano Misha Penton.

How can we allow the arts to reveal deeper understanding? By releasing the desire to evaluate and cultivating enchantment.

Over the holiday weekend I attended Divergence Vocal Theater’s CD release concert, featuring Selkie, a sea tale, composed by Elliot Cole with a libretto by Misha Penton, at 4411 Montrose in the Houston Museum District. The music, scored for soprano, cello and piano, is lush and romantic, with soaring, modulatory passages that evoke Richard Strauss, watery harmonies reminiscent of Debussy, and jazzy tunes, all beautifully wrapped up together. The performance was further enhanced as two dancers, Meg Booker and Yelena Konetchy, moved together in choreography that brought further pathos to the sound of Misha Penton’s touching vocals, Patrick Moore’s soulful cello and Kyle Evans colorful piano playing. Misha seemed to sing from the eye of the storm, a tantalizing presence possessing a delightfully quirky intimacy that you might find in the work of Bjork, coupled with an edgy vocal power. Her unflinching belief in this sea dream is unmistakable and bewitching.

Patrick Moore, Kyle Evans, Misha Penton.Photo by Jerry McCallum 

The minimalistic space, projected with a watery image and set with a few chairs for the audience was a perfect vehicle for this tale of a love that could not ultimately survive in a corporeal form. A selkie is a creature who appears human on land, but is actually a sea creature, possessing a seal’s skin and taking the form of a seal in the water. A human who wishes to keep a selkie lover can do so by hiding the selkie’s skin, but, when the selkie finds it, the sea calls so strongly that the fantastic creature must leave.

This performance was a semi-staged concert, with nuances and ideas sinking into and occasionally jutting out from the mesmerizing fog of Cole’s music and Penton’s poetry. Ambiguity very much suits this piece. If we are willing to leave behind technical analysis and even storyline, we are drawn in subconsciously, surrounded and disoriented by this enchanted work which is refreshingly full of imagination. In one stunning moment, as we transitioned from a happier section to a section rife with restlessness and worry, the city of Houston supplied an emergency siren, leaking into the space and revealing magic, a bit of synchronicity. The strength of the spell created by Misha and her collaborators is that I was not torn out of the story, but instead incorporated the anxious siren into it. I was deeply moved by the emotional currents between the selkie and the lover, as wild as the ocean itself, and the transcendent mystery of love that holds on despite reality and must one day let go. Is this not the nature of all human love?

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