Il Ritorno

Circa Ensemble
February 3,4, 2018
Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley

A Juxtaposition of Wonders

To four arias from “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in patria”(Ulysses returns to his homeland), music director Aaron Lifschitz has created a score for mezzo-soprano, Kate Howden, and baritone, Benedict Nelson, accompanied by keyboard, cello, violin, viola, harp and electronics, directed by Natalie Murray-Beale. Program notes tell us that the tale as presented here is heavily influenced by Primo Levi’s description of returning from Auschwitz. The 1640 music is exquisite; and to add to its dimension, seven extraordinary acrobats perform along side the musicians, thus “pioneering how extreme physicality can create powerful and moving performances.”

The event demands close attention from the audience. Not only does the delicate score (in Italian), the singers and the instrumentalists perform with exquisite skill requiring close attention to the musical nuance, but the acrobats, who tumble, climb, roll, swing and soar are present throughout. For the most part, their actions underscore and support the painful and dramatic storyline. Sometimes however, the feats of skill are so overwhelming in scope as to be detracting. The event is dramatic on both sides of the stage, amplifying but sometimes obscuring the music.

The most dramatic moments, outside of the thrilling balances, spins and lifts, are when a single performer throws herself across the stage to illustrate Penelope’s lament. The stage set (by Jason Organ) is dark; the most scenic element is a black fence against which all the acrobats lean before they exit. If Lifschitz intends a image of world wide refuge crisis, he and they have succeeded in “Il Ritorno.”


Joanna G. Harris

Circa acrobats in “Il Ritorno