SAN FRANCISCO, CA.-
Acknowledging the importance of theatrical work in William Kentridge's oeuvre, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
(SFMOMA) will present The Return of Ulysses, an opera directed by the artist. The Return of Ulysses will run at Project Artaud Theater, San Francisco, from Tuesday, March 24, through Saturday, March 28 (Opening Night Benefit Performance March 25), and is a production of Pacific Operaworks, Seattle, with musical direction by three-time Grammy nominee Stephen Stubbs and puppetry by Kentridge's longtime collaborator, the Handspring Puppet Company of Cape Town, South Africa.
Kentridge's acclaimed reinterpretation of Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (Claudio Monteverdi's seminal masterpiece from 1640) was first performed in Brussels in 1998. This limited-engagement revival of the artist's original production will be overseen by director Luc de Wit and features actors and musicians, as well as life-size wooden puppets and projections of Kentridge's signature animated charcoal drawings.
Performed in Italian with English supertitles, The Return of Ulysses is based on Homer's Odyssey, focusing on the hero's return to Ithaca after his voyage of more than 20 years. Aided by the goddess Minerva and disguised as an old beggar, he reveals his true identity and power as he routs the unwelcome suitors who have plundered his home and wooed his long-suffering wife, Penelope.
Kentridge recreates Monteverdi's classic for our time by setting the story in mid-20th-century South Africa and placing the dying Ulysses in a hospital ward in Johannesburg. Incorporating the artist's video projections—inspired in part by medical films and images of the body taken from X-rays, MRIs, and angiograms—Kentridge's restaging of the piece adds a fascinating visual world to Homer's epic and Monteverdi's music, highlighting the fine line between internal and external forces within the story, as well as the mortal frailty of Ulysses and all mythic heroes.
The Return of Ulysses is presented in conjunction with the exhibition William Kentridge: Five Themes (on view at SFMOMA March 14 through May 31, 2009) and marks the latest installment of Live Art at SFMOMA, an ongoing series of innovative public programs designed to embrace the event-driven, performance-based nature of today's most engaging contemporary art.